Take 2

I’m going to write here for a bit while I decide whether to set up a whole new space for the forthcoming 2011 trip.  There’s something nice about leaving tuttle2texas as a completed artefact, but also something attractive about keeping the continuity.  It’s all tied up too in whether talking about Texas is too confusing – it’s really about a coast-to-coast trip that includes a big chunk of time in Texas. Open to ideas on this one, as ever.

So

I am going again.  My plan is still to start somewhere on the West Coast at the beginning of March, take my time to get over to Austin for the opening of Interactive & Film on 11th.  I’d like to get a Gold Pass this year and see more of the Film festival as well as hanging out with my webby pals.

And then onto all the places we visited last year to see how those new friends are getting on and give them a taste of what the rest of the adventure was like.

I want to do the bulk of the journey by train again.  It’s an excellent creative constraint to be held to the timetable.  I’m going to try to let go of any other rules completely.

So for starters, I don’t know where to start on the West Coast.  There’s something nice about beginning in Long Beach with the #tuttlela crowd but I’m also aching to see San Francisco, Portland and Seattle *and* ideally too, I’d love to stop off in Alpine TX just before SXSW to see my mate Hugh in his native surroundings. I may be being greedy here, it has been known.

So your first task is help me decide – tell me where to start and why. And then how, in an ideal world, I’d make my way to Austin.

Secondly, I’m going to focus on *my* journey rather than try to get a bunch of people to come along with me and do it all together.  It’s just too complex.  I am going.  If you want to come with me for any leg of the trip or meet up in any of the cities I visit, then you are very welcome to do so, but it’s up to you to work out the details.

Thirdly, I want to create some collaborative, lasting, social artefact for people to contribute to whether they’re able to join in, in the States, or not.  It’s as poorly thought through as that so far.  Ideas welcome.  If you’re somewhere on or near the route and you have fun things to do there that I could join in with also let me know, a theme might emerge…

I’m starting to refine the pitch for sponsors.  If you have a client who you think would be interested in being associated with this thing, let me know.

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Gearing up for SXSWi 2011

There are a couple of things coming up that I wanted to let you know about.

Firstly, the panel picker for SXSWi 2011 is going live on Monday 9th August.?? I've submitted a suggestion for a session talking about this year's trip and what we learned and it will be really helpful if you can find my panel and vote for, comment, blog and microblog on it and encourage all of your friends to do the same, twice.?? Naturally I'll point you to the right place ad nauseam when it all comes out next week

Here's the blurb I wrote for it:

"On March 2nd 2010 members of London's Tuttle Club set off for SXSWi. The plan for the following 2 weeks was to travel from Boston to Austin by train, meeting up with friends from the social web as we went and just see what happened. We've since coined the term Social Art Field Trip to describe sort of thing ??? where Social Art is the ???skilfull bringing together of people online and off- to create a sense of beauty???. Armed with cameras, phones & netbooks, we were ready to make something beautiful and interesting by building new relationships and documenting our journey as we went.

We gained huge support from our friends but set out with less money than we thought we needed. Yet we made it and, on our way to Texas, we were repeatedly blown away by the kindness of strangers. From the ukulele-playing old folk in Maryland to the lady in NOLA who left us the keys to her home in the mailbox, we came back with stories galore of kindness and generosity facilitated by the social web.

Our session tells this story of hope, determination and making do with what you have. It shows how powerful the social web can be when applied to organising people to do cool stuff. It shows how social capital built up on the web can be leveraged for real-world results even if those results aren't directly measurable in cashflow. It shows how creative collaboration thrives among highly-connected people and how we make gorgeous and unexpected things happen when we ask the whole our social graph for help."

Of course, implicit in this is the idea that we're all going to go again.?? My current ideal scenario is that we travel in the other direction next year.?? That is, we start on the west coast shortly before the festival and then travel back through the cities we went to last year doing tweetups with screenings of the movie as we go.

The movie??? Oh yeah, didn't I say that bit??? Yeah.?? The plan is to have a short to enter into the SXSWi Film Festival too, out of the 24 or so hours of video that Heather and Michelle shot over the two weeks of their bit of the trip.

Heather's going to be getting it off the DV tape in a couple of week's time.?? Then when we have it in an easier-to-distribute format we need to transcribe it – we have notes of what's on each tape, but to pull the whole story out, we need a full transcription.

So we're going to make it into something that you can all join in, if you want to.?? We'll chop all 24 hours of it into digestible chunks and allow you to download them, transcribe the contents and submit the transcription to a central repository.?? If you have ideas about how to make it all less of a chore for us all, that would be cool.

We'll give you more details when we're ready to go but I wanted to let you know what we were up to.?? Oh, and if you've any ideas about how you'd like to take part in or otherwise help with next year's trip, just give me a shout.

Daily Story Digest #3

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“To the Massachusetts Institute of Technology”

Cultural dissonance #1: Taxi drivers who don’t know where they’re going – no really they don’t, you have to tell them, they’re not just faking it because they don’t want to go south of the river this time of night.  In London of course it happens too, but there you just wait for another one (or @tweetalondoncab !).  but it’s snowing, you have jetlag, you don’t really know where your going either, you’ve just upset an internet blue blood – can’t we jut get there?

No, tantrums won’t work, that’ll just get your luggage thrown in the snow.  Deep breaths and we can work this out together…

And the reward for patience and perseverance is #TuttleMIT – we’re at the MIT Sloan Business School and we’re drinking coffee and chatting with people we’ve only met before on the internet and suddenly the spirit of Tuttle is there.  Wow.  It works, it just does.  And then people arrive that we weren’t expecting and we didn’t know.  But they know us, well, they at least they’re curious enough to travel for an hour through the snow to find out if we’re for real.  And we’re making new connections and having interesting conversations – about Bangor and Haiti and Kazoos – hurrah! It’s home from home.

“Livestreams and Ukulele”

In the evening, we did #TuttleBoston in the lovely DigiLounge.  Mike and Kera did us proud with food and drink for all.  Brian tucked himself away in a corner and then proudly announced that we were livestreaming to the internetz – he then carried on a great tuttle tradition of talking to people somewhere else in the world while attending a face to face meetup.  I think we all had a go at manning the live stream, with the bizarre thing being that practically everyone watching was in the UK and it was 7pm EST/midnight GMT when we started.  We also witnessed the emergence of a new livestreaming double act in the shape of Heather and Steve Garfield.  Fortunately for the cultural edification of future generations, the whole thing is archived here.

This was one of the things I wanted to really test out on this trip, whether people would come out on a snowy evening in March to meet some crazy English (OK and Irish) and Canadian folk,  just because they’d seen people talking about it on Twitter – yup, people are just as funny in America as they are in London!

It was also time to try out the “thank you” present of entertaining them with my singing and ukulele – you can hear how it went down on Heather’s audioboo.  All too soon it was time for bed, we had a train to catch in the morning.

(photo credit cc by-nc-sa Steve Garfield)

“All Aboard!”

So just as I was starting to feel I knew where I was and that things were OK and working as expected, we throw ourselves off another cliff.  It’s time to get our first train.  Why is this difficult?  I did a 40 minute train commute from Surrey into London pretty much every day for about 15 years.  I’ve travelled on all the mainlines in the UK and delved into some of the most obscure branches too.  I spent a couple of weeks last year travelling around Europe on an Interrail pass.  I know how to travel on trains, I like travelling on trains, why am I restless and irritable waiting for this Amtrak from Boston down to New York City?

Because I don’t know what I don’t know.  My fear of making an awful faux-pas is heightened.  Have I got the right ticket?  What are those Red Caps up to?  Do they expect an extortionate tip for taking your luggage to the train?  Will they set fire to it in disgust if you give them a couple of bucks instead of five?  How do we know which is our train?  Do we really need to be here 30 minutes before departure?  What will happen if we aren’t? How does queueing work in this country?  Am I in the way?  What don’t I know that is suddenly and unexpectedly going to get me into trouble?

Then it hits me.  I am one of those people that, back in London, I stand behind and tut at. I am a foreigner who hasn’t a clue and I forgive every stupid Italian I’ve ever wanted to strangle, every Yank whose baseball cap I wanted to stuff in their loud mouths, every Yorkshireman that I’ve wanted to scream at “WAKE UP! LOOK WHERE YOU’RE GOING”.   I am filled with forgiveness for them all and for myself and I’m ready to just go and see how it all works.

OMG, they really do shout “All Aboooooaaaard!”

“Next Stop: Big Apple”

“The Amtrak trains are like big tin cans, they look like they’re just slats of aluminium stapled together.”  I wrote as we juddered our way down along the New England coastline.  Of course they’re not.  They’re actually slats of aluminum stapled together.

This first leg reminded me how difficult it is to actually write while  you’re on a train.  When rushing around a city it feels like the train time’s going to be a great time to “get all this down” – actually, there’s still plenty going on that you don’t want to miss.  What does the countryside look like between Boston and New York?  I realise that there are lots of big empty chunks in my conceptual map of the United States that are going to get filled on this trip – I knew Boston was going to be a little Good Will Hunting, and I expected NYC to be Kojak and Starsky and Hutch but what’s inbetween?   Well it turns out, for a British Rail traveller, that it’s quite like that bit of the South Wales coast beyond Cardiff – Port Talbot and Swansea, tired old industrial ports and factories interspersed with breathtaking natural beauty – not lush mountainsides of course, still gorgeous, but different, American.

Then before we know it, and just as I was ready for a little snooze, there’s the island of Manhattan our of the right hand window.  Rarely photographed from this angle, and I can see why – it didn’t inspire me to leap out of my seat and snap away.  Approaching from the north-east by rail doesn’t capture it’s best side, but yes, that’s definitely New York.

“Welcome to 7th Avenue!”

So this is my postcard-y shot from the BBH offices down towards the bottom of 6th Avenue.  Don’t talk to me about postcards.  if you want to hear my postcards from New York story, talk to Dana – she tells it with great relish and glee…

Anyway, back to getting off the train.  Penn Station isn’t really like any station in London.  I guess its closest British counterpart would be New St in Birmingham in that it’s dirty,  mostly underground and you come out into a tired shopping centre full of crazy people whose accent you can’t understand.  Classy.  Which  reminds me of Big Cultural Difference #2 – the significantly larger number of people clearly suffering from mental health problems and living (or at least begging) on the streets.  My assumption is that the NHS tidies much of this away – it’s not that we’re any less crazy, just that we can get our drugs for free.

My senses already heightened by men wearing two overcoats tied up with string, I emerged onto 7th Avenue ready to see what the isle of Manhattan had to offer.  Well the first thing was a couple arguing – not the sort of low-level passive aggressive bickering you see from couples in IKEA – no, full on, sassy. “you ain’t nevah gonna see yo’ children agin mofo” screaming match – just marching straight through the tourists.  Tired, jetlagged, uptight and suffering from an imagination overfed with way too many nights under the blankets reading Amazing Spiderman as a youngster, I really didn’t know whether to laugh out loud or hit the deck because the shooting was going to start.  So I looked to Dana.  Who was laughing.  Not at the couple but at me, for being such an out-of-towner. 

Oh New York!

EAVB_OOBYIKSCBU

Daily Story Digest #2

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??

“All part of the story”

I was so pleased when Heather Taylor confirmed she’d be coming on this trip.?? I developed a huge artist’s crush on her soon after she came to Tuttle – she is always *doing* stuff, making beautiful things?? – she had to rush off because she was screening her latest documentary, no she couldn’t be here next week because she was reading?? her poetry to an excited audience in Serbia.

You can hear Heather talking a week or so before the trip on this audioboo

Heather decided early on that her contribution to Tuttle2Texas would include making a documentary film of the trip.?? Now the planning instinct of the film-maker can clash with the free and easy social artist’s spirit of improvisation.?? “Ooh look at this shiny thing!” – “Yes, but could we just walk over here again to get a long shot?”

The compromise was “It’s all part of the story” – whenever something happened that wasn’t in the original plan (the plan that I didn’t write down you understand, the made-up plan that I kept rattling around in my head) it became “part of the story” and whenever I had a teenage strop because we needed to wait for like a whole minute and a half for Michelle to catch up with the camera gear, I restored my sanity by reminding myself that it was “all part of the story”

And for those who are wondering when, exactly this whole story is going to get going… be patient, this is all important stuff.??

“Terminal 5 is pretty”

Though clearly not pretty enough for me to take a picture when I arrived at LHR on the morning of 2nd March.?? I was more interested at the time in getting to take my ukulele onto the plane as a second piece of carry-on luggage.?? The lady at check-in seemed doubtful and worried me further by telling me there was an added security screening for flights into the US.?? I had visions of Darrin (that’s the name of my smaller, black Les Paul-ish uke) being dismantled or simply smashed to pieces by over-zealous guardians of the nation’s safety.?? She urged me to get in as quickly as possible.

Well I needn’t have worried.?? The?? ukulele has magical charming properties which combine well with my new-found “bearded charisma”.???? Photographers might be easily mistaken for terrorists, but honestly, who’s going to suspect a ukulele player with facial hair??? Nonetheless I passed the time in the queue trying to remember the chords to “Down among the sheltering palms” in case I was challenged to actually play.

So I made it to the gate much earlier than I expected and had time to soak up what a pleasant air-side experience it is.?? I tweeted the same and had an almost instant response from the Heathrow twitter team saying they liked it too.?? I was early, but there was no sight of Heather and Michelle.?? I reflected (quietly, to myself) that this was the first time I’d ever travelled with women before who’d been comfortable turning up at the airport later than me.?? Then the flight was called and I still couldn’t see them.?? What if we’d done all that preparation and then I ended up going on my own?

(photo credit: James Cridland)

“Somewhere over Nova Scotia”

The picture above is from the day before we left when I was packing away all the goodies that Nokia and Canon had provided me with to help document the trip.?? I had a Nokia N900 (with which the photo was taken) a 3G Notebook and a set of noise cancelling earphones.?? From Canon I had a 500D, though unfortunately I had no lens for it until the next day when Mike lent me his.?? (It’s still sitting on my desk by the way Mike… I haven’t forgotten, really!)

So the first few hours of the flight, I spent picking over this kit, trying to work out how I was going to use it all, wondering how easy it was going to be to get a US sim card for the notebook and the phone and whether it would all work.?? Also cursing the multitude of power adapters I needed.?? You can see from the photo that one of the Nokia devices came with a European plug on it, so I would need a Euro -> US adapter when I arrived.?? I’ve since seen those lovely multi-adapters that you can stick anything into anything with, but that’s for next time.?? Also in the photo, if you squint hard, up at the top you can catch a glimpse of my bottom bookshelf.?? Yes, that really is a book on LOGO next to “The C Programming Language” next to something on PHP & MySQL and then along a bit a nice one on CP/M Assembly Language.

About an hour and a half before landing at the most boring part of the flight, after I’d tried everything out thoroughly and failed to have a nap, I made my first queued upload Audioboo containing the phrase “I’m really excited” delivered in possibly the most deadpan way ever.

PS Oh yeah, of course Heather and Michelle made the flight, what on earth were you worried about? 🙂

“Hello Boston!”

Some short shenanigans before we get out into the city.?? Immigration is weird going into the states.?? Why??? Because the guys on the desk speak Engl-ish and you get to have a chat with them.?? This is not like popping across the channel when you just get a cursory, bored glance from the French border guard type and anyway I know I have a right to wander within the EU.?? Here they could really say “No, sorry, you can’t come in.”?? I know it’s not likely, and the ukulele and bearded charisma do help enormously, but y’know, it would be a pain in the bum to have to fly all the way back at this stage.

Plus I knew Dana was waiting for me on the other side.?? And that was going to be weird – we’d been “seeing each other” in a bizarre long-distance internet-enabled way since December, but this was first time face to face, same time-zone and everything..?? And it was weird.?? She ran away from me.?? Then I ran away from her. We slowly worked our way next to each other and exchanged some tentative touches.?? There may have been a kiss.?? It’s all a bit blurry.

It gets blurrier when we’re outside trying to talk to Kera from TSP via twitter. She’s coming to pick us up in an SUV apparently, but none of us can quite agree on what one of those looks like.?? Finally we find the poor girl and we let her drive us away from Logan Airport and around Boston’s baffling traffic system (Ooh! Charles River. Aah! Fenway Park!) me sitting quietly with four women who all really do like to talk, a lot, to our home for the next couple of days. ??

“Dr Weinberger, I presume(?)”

I hate jetlag.?? Who doesn’t??? In particular, though it undermines my predeliction for flying by the seat of my pants.?? I can’t.?? I don’t have all my faculties.?? I make mistakes that I would normally see coming and cut off at the pass.

I first heard of David Weinberger when Euan Semple introduced me to blogging in 2002.?? David was one of the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto which Euan was blabbing on about and the fact that these guys were writing on the internet, like nearly every day, just posting what they thought and were doing with nobody else involved in deciding whether it should be published.?? It’s what saved me from a life of managing corporate intranets.

So, a year ago, when I saw that he was writing a new book on the changes in our attitudes to expertise and knowledge in a highly networked world, I sent him details of the Tuttle Consulting gig we did as an example of how I think we’re making use of networked knowledge in a new way.?? I then followed this up with a suggestion that we meet while we were in Boston to see whether we could help any further.

We sat in the TSP DigiLounge and chatted for about an hour.?? Well, actually what happened was I rambled on through my jetlag about Tuttle for an hour and David typed copious notes.?? Then, after Heather had interviewed him, we had a little “learning experience” by asking a Berkman fellow to sign a non-creative-commons release form.?? We further trod on his toes (at the other end of the privacy spectrum)?? by releasing an audioboo of our conversation instantly.?? Ouch!?? Many apologies ensued, but it was a timely reminder that we weren’t at home among those who know and already trust us.?? And it helped us to quickly clarify our approach to content licensing and checking permissions *before* capture.?? Just what you need when your body *knows* it’s mid-afternoon, but everyone around you is still having breakfast.

On a good note, David was pleased to find that our meeting was taking place in an Apple repair shop, so we left him talking about some problem with his macbook while we went out into the snow to cross the river to Cambridge.

Daily Story Digest #1

I’m having a go at using a short daily e-mail to make a sort of illustrated serial out of stories from the trip.?? I’m going to publish a digest of them here every week.?? This is the first.

If you’d like to get these straight to your mailbox every weekday morning you can sign up here.

Please help me improve on this – let me know in the comments what you like and what could be better – either about the daily e-mails or this digest format.

“To begin at the beginning…”

“To begin at the beginning” that’s all I’ve got in my head, Richard Burton’s voice booming out of one of those big wooden loudspeakers.?? But what is the true beginning of this tale of risk, adventure, romance and laughter??? Mmmm… well let’s just start with a conversation between friends.?? If we have to backtrack at all then we will, but for now let’s start with December 3rd 2009.?? We (assorted members of the Tuttle Club) are at the ICA celebrating the completion of some fascinating work with the British Council’s thinktank, Counterpoint, applying our social artistry and consulting skills to their complex organisational environment and helping them find new ways to engage with people online.??

We’re talking.?? We’re tuttlers, that’s what we do.?? And so the story emerges from a conversation.?? I say something like “I want to go to SXSWi again this year, but I don’t want to just flit in and out.?? Maybe we could fly to somewhere over on the east coast and then trek across somehow.”?? Yes! voices are raised.?? Yes! and little eyes light up.?? Steve Lawson talks about his low-carbon touring approach.?? Sara Haq reminds us of the Overland Project.?? Yes! we’d be up for something like that.?? Yes! we could make a movie as we go along.?? And I have the familiar sick feeling beginning deep within that we’ve started something that will soon have irresistible momentum.?? Something a bit scary, but exhilarating.?? A new piece of social art.

Here we go again…

“Practicalities”

So we have an idea, a plan, a scheme. It’s exciting and we’re all up for it. Yeah!

And so to practicalities. But first we have to descend through a layer of fantasy practicalities – the cool ways that someone else once did something quite similar to this but, well, “who knows unless we try, right?”

These are not actually practicalities at all, they’re still part of imagining. They’re a method we use to convince ourselves that we’re not crazy even if we’ve just had a crazy idea. They’re more justifications than practicalities. But that’s not always a bad thing and anyway they also open you up to even more audacious possibilities, thus: “Then if we do that, it means we could probably do this other thing too and that would *totally* rock.”

We really do need to get down to practicalities though, oh yes. Which basically means: “Um. How much is this going to cost? Where might we get the money? No, really, where? What do we actually have that we can depend on? Hmmmmm…this may be trickier than we thought.”

“The Point”

Days pass, weeks pass… oh. my. goodness! we’re at the point. The point of no return.?? The point of make or break.?? The time when we decide whether we’re going to do this thing or slink off into the February gloom and start planning for something else, something less daring, something more boring.

Of course, three months down the line, we all know that we pushed ahead, pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and went for it.?? But there really was a time when I didn’t know if we were going or not.?? In truth, this “point” stretched out over a few weeks, and, at least from my own point of view, the period of uncertainty didn’t really end until I was sitting on Long Beach enjoying the Californian spring sunshine.?? But in London, in February, Brian, Heather and I had to decide whether to pull the plug or to embrace the uncertainty, to set off and let the story unfold, even if that involved spending our own money and a lot of “whistling in the dark”.

Well I wrote in the first Tuttle Annual Report:We don’t know how all of this will turn out. We’ve never known, to be honest, but at times when we had to make a decision (like moving location to the ICA for example) I was happy to hold the uncertainty on the group’s behalf and say that while I didn’t know what was going to happen next, I was sure it would be OK and that I would do everything in my power to ensure that it was OK. It’s been important for me to establish from the start that I didn’t have all the answers.

And that seemed to fit here too.?? So, y’know, we went.

(photo credit: Paul Clarke)

“The Kindness of Strangers”

Dealing with uncertainty was not just about taking a deep breath and jumping in.

This diagram was an attempt to draw together what we knew and didn’t know before we started the trip.?? My name and Brian’s name in red, for example, means we didn’t know where we were going to stay.?? This all worked out more beautifully than we could have imagined but that’s a story for another day.?? The blue bits are what we knew about where we would hang out – and if we didn’t know where, then who was helping.

So this doesn’t acknowledge the help we got from people before we started.?? People we didn’t know at all, who just popped up in our facebook and twitter streams offering help.?? Stephanie Frost in Atlanta, Georgia was one of them – organising a tweetup in a bar for us and persuading Mike at Ignition Alley to let us hang out there all day.?? I didn’t get the importance of this at first, though I was amazed?? and appreciative of all the work people like Stephanie did for us, I was still wanting to be as self-reliant as possible – I saw it as a bug, not a feature.?? Later on, I would see that relying on the kindness of strangers, giving people the opportunity to do something useful and pleasurable and interesting was a vital part of keeping the flow going and the more we asked for, the more we were given.

So thank you, all of you, not just for what you did, but for helping me learn that lesson.

“Wanderers”

In typical style, I’ve blundered into telling you the story without introducing you to the splendid cast of characters.?? This is Brian Condon.?? I met Brian at Tuttle about 18 months ago – he is typical of the fascinating people that Tuttle has introduced me too.?? Very clever, curious, always on the go.?? He showed me the plans for what has become the Centre for Creative Collaboration (#C4CC) soon after we met.?? I smiled and nodded and told him to let me know how I could help if it ever got off the ground.?? We then worked together on the first Tuttle Consulting gig and as a strategy consulting old-timer, he sees how radical and powerful this approach can be.?? He does great audioboos.

Brian and I both have migrants in our heritage.?? You can tell from our names that we’re not from round here.?? So it shouldn’t be surprising that we found ourselves rambling across a big country.

Brian set out first.?? He was our scout, going off to see interesting things in Toronto to help think about #C4CC before heading south-east into the Land of the Free.?? I first got a real taste that we were going on a journey and we’d be writing about it, y’know like real travel writers, when I saw this post pop up from Brian just after he crossed the border from Canada.?? I was also hit with the realisation of how long our journey was going to be and how far away it all seemed.??

Sitting in London, on a chilly February day looking at pictures from a man surrounded by snow,?? I started to sweat.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Hanging around outside Whole Foods in Austin

Just found this snippet – notable mostly for the grackle soundtrack. As it happens I was waiting for @irinaslutsky whom I'd never met before to come along and pick me up in a taxi. ??Much better than another night when I stood on the opposite corner trying to hail a cab and got pooped on by the birds in the trees above.