[Home]LifeInText

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Our lives carve out traces amongst other lives, machines, and processes. You can see this clearly on the Internet where almost our every action creates a record somewhere that lives on. As we continue to use social media, the projection of ourselves and ideas as text all over the Internet increases and increases. This projection is not static, but rather continues to influence the world long after we create it. People Google a question and will find your answer often for years after you wrote it, and as a result, their behaviour changes.

That's a very simple example of your LifeInText, but really, as informational beings, we extend ourselves into the world well beyond the limits of our arms and legs, fingers and toes, eyes and ears. We create bank accounts and investments, policies and requests, ideas and processes that create actions and reactions. As a human being, we expand our influence through these instruments just as if they were just extra limbs grafted on to our bodies. Limbs and ideas and external processes exist to do the same thing: collect information and resources from the world towards your self, and then as a result take action to make change in the world from your self. Limbs are just localized in time and space, whereas ideas and processes are more expansive.

Now, not all ideas are not tied to a person. Just because I teach you that 2+2=4, that doesn't mean when you add 2+2 you are an extension of me. However, there are many ideas and processes that do clearly belong to a person. Your reputation, your orders, your businesses all form a coherent part of your self. As long as other agents in our information landscape (e.g. people, organizations, machines) consider those ideas parts of you, they are part of you.

People are already long familiar with the idea that LifeInText continues beyond physical death. Your last Will and Testament is a clear extension of your self through text. That Will is definitely you taking action, even if it is not through your own body, and you're not even alive.

Of course, you can continue to impact the world well beyond your Will. You can set up a Foundation in your name to take up a cause (e.g. the Rockefeller Foundation). The company you created can continue on long after your death (e.g. Ford Motor Co.). You can form a religion around yourself and have disciples continue your ideas and actions from generation to generation (e.g. Christianity). You can write software that continues to act on your behalf well beyond your death, such as http://www.raptureletters.com/ which sends letters to loved ones after your death. In this way, you have not totally died. You continue to live on through information.

All of the last paragraph's examples are tied by name directly to their instigator, but what's harder to understand is that your LifeInText can continue without your name carrying forward. As long as coherent aspects of your Self continue to affect the world as coherent processes, those parts of you live on in a real way. It's really weird to think about, but if your Self is expanded beyond your body, just as if you amputate an arm, you don't die, similarly if your body dies, your whole Self doesn't die.

A wonderful short story that describes LifeInText (magically) is Mr. Penumbra’s Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan, available as [text] and as a [podcast].

Also, there are products that rather macabrely embraces and explodes this concept by systematically assists you in killing off your LifeInText. Two examples are the better, [Suicide Machine], and the older [Seppukoo].


If you spend a lot or too much of your day typing away at keyboards to communicate with people, you are living a LifeInText.

Text has many variants - the stacatto bursts of InternetRelayChat, the multi-window chaos of InstantMessaging, the back and forth and back and forth of ElectronicMail?, and the branching forms of wiki. But it's all comparatively the same, in that the focus of the attention is on what is written, and perhaps how it is written, and not on the interplay of all of the senses working at once.

There is also the sense of LifeInText as the human spirit living on beyond the limits of the human body, where words, thoughts and actions get written down and passed along as texts well past the lifetime of the originator. These live primarily as books in our culture, in particular in holy books. One of the AffordancesOfBooks is their durability beyond the life of the author (as long as the book does not go out of print or get trapped by copyright).

Compare LifeInPictures?, LifeInSound?, LifeInPerson?.

This doesn't describe the meaning of LifeInText employed on MeatballWiki to date, which rather involves the theory that text becomes an agent of a person, that is both representative of that person and also independent. For instance, Jesus Christ lives today because we have an institution dedicated to maintaining some sort of coherence around his thinking, in a sense that the kid born next door to Jesus does not live today any longer. More pressing, an OnlineDiary is a LifeInText that stands in your place to, say, a SearchEngine, which is why we ForgiveAndForget in order to destroy this agent. There are innumerable consequences of this that are relevant to Meatball, and I would and have argued that this concept is indeed central to Meatball as we focus on OnlineCommunity, a construction that only means something if we believe in a LifeInText. -- SunirShah

Actually, Jesus lives today because ... he's alive. You might want to switch the example to Plato or something just to avoid off-topic debate from me and Scott. :) -- StephenGilbert

I suppose what I mean is that my sense of Jesus is through the word of others about how they experience the sense of Jesus. (I often enjoy off-topic debates. ;) -- SunirShah

Reading this pithy response years later makes me wonder why I didn't explain this clearly. Cowardice, perhaps? Actually, my inspiration for using Jesus was the very direct belief in the power of words in the Judaic tradition. The CreationMyth? in Genesis is based on the principle that in order for something to exist, it must be named. Or rather conversely, naming something brings it into existence. The corollary is that once something loses its name, it ceases to exist. If this is hard to grasp, computer programming works like this. Fiat lux is similar to to defining Light and then instantiating it: class Light; ... end; Light.new. Genesis is particularly amazing as it also simultaneously is the story of when humankind attained sentience. Sentience is critical to generate a LifeInText.

The power of words is intrinsic to the religion. Sometimes this is still expressed today as literally "the Word", which as believers are to take on, embody, and pass on to the next generation to preserve in an unbroken chain the Word amongst humanity. Amongst the Jewish tradition, there is even a strong subculture of examining the Torah letter by letter and even rearranging it endlessly until the true Word is unlocked. Jesus embodies all of these concepts as a single person, which makes the ideas more tangible.

I don't mean to be contentious. I know not many people view Jesus this way. However, the religion has included these ideas, and it was what inspired me a long time ago to understand that our own lives are a combination of our genetic makeup and our memetic make up, and that our ExtendedPhenotype? includes our memetic make up. Because memes are information, they can continue live on as processes far beyond our bodies, and thus the parts of our selves that are processes and ideas do not die when we stop breathing. Further, they are not separate from our selves, but our selves extended.

Very mystical, sure, but there's value in this perspective that's worth exploring. For instance, it led me to different understandings of privacy, reputation, identity, and intellectual property. -- SunirShah

sunir, you wrote: to build the kingdom of heaven, it's up to the people . you can't be fatalistic and wait for another corporeal incarnation; rather, as we are the body of christ, we are the second coming by building a peaceable world .

we are on a good way to do that: life in structure :

can you see it? it's the second corporeal incarnation . as helmut agreed on leaving the structure, your connection has gone . do you want to make e new one ? -- sigi


I can go for days without talking to anyone. I sit in my office at school, typing away trying to fill in the gaps in what is on the internet. I try this so as to have a means to express myself through my words. I want future generations to know what I was thinking at a given time. My [weblog] is a personal narrative of my life that is not my life. It is something far different, more than a fantasy and less than fantastic. -- JustinLillich

Justin, how can you be a teacher at school without talking to anyone for days? -- HelmutLeitner

As I made that comment, I began to think about the meaning behind it. I think that when I say I don't talk to people for days, I can have non-interaction with people for days. I certainly do stand in front of students and speak to them as they make notes in their books, but I don't feel as if they are interacting with me. The modes of communication that one chooses to use in a given day can differ from day to day. I think what I really meant by the statement was that if the situation ever arose and I could shut myself into my home and be totally alone with my thoughts, I would have no problem with it. -- JustinLillich


I used to keep an OnlineDiary, maintain presences on various lists and forums, have most of my friends known only as words on a screen. In an attempt to balance I've swung too far the other way now and it's hard to come back -- one of the drawbacks of a LifeInText is that is takes effort to maintain. Whereas LifeInPerson? updates automatically; unfortunately, it's neither archived nor searchable. -- KatWalsh

In what sense does LifeInPerson? update automatically? Does it not take effort to maintain relationships with LifeInPerson? friends? -- JohannesGijsbers


This page is a mess, which is my fault for never really explaining the idea. -- SunirShah


Discussion

NathanielThurston -- Tue Sep 15 20:34:35 2009

Sunir, I like your new introduction -- it makes perfect sense to me... and I'd also like to say thanks for churning the page. The only part of the page that jars me is the structure diagram, which seems to require absent context to make sense of. It's pretty, though, so I'm not sure what if anything ought to be done about it.


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