I meet a lot of interesting people. It’s my favourite thing to do, and it’s how I work best. But in general, I don’t even like people! At least not more than animals, say, or as an alternative to living out the rest of my days alone on a barren radiation-blasted planet with only a beachball with a face drawn on for company.
But people are responsible for so much, and if you’re trying get to the bottom of an idea – trace it right to its roots – you’ll very often find yourself at someone, not something. So you might as well start with a human, because the chances are, that’s where you’ll end up anyway. Happenstance is all about that, and as we look towards the end of our final week, it feels like this is the beginning of something. When you start with people you’ll find you can go further and further and further, because people are special tangles that spin out in every direction forever.
This week I’ve already had some really good chats with people I find interesting, and it’s only Tuesday. Seriously: subjects covered in conversations with mates in the last 72 hours have included the Sheffield arts scene, Arduino electronics, puppets, Buddhism, emotional music, Hiroshima, ambition, parents, magic, Turing, the circus… I don’t think I’m unusual, either. I think everyone has some interesting stuff up their sleeve and plenty of friends who are keen to share. Sometimes these conversations just happen, sometimes you have to put the time aside for them – but it’s hardly a chore. With everything in the right place, every weekend can be like the most interesting conference in the world.
Realising you could cut straight to the source of a creation was a revelation. Almost as soon as I could write, I wrote copious letters to the people responsible for work I admired or found interesting, and I still do. The difference is that now the people I admire are people I know – or the people I now know are the people I admire. For an approach that doesn’t amount to much more than ‘having a chat’ it really feels like enlightenment. No, I can honestly say there’s nothing about my brilliant invention of “talking to other human beings” that I’d change. I am truly a genius for coming up with the concept.
Everyone knows that trust is a resin that manifests in the gaps between certainty. It looks like knowing and smells like hoping, and it solidifies to allow the little ants of strength to march across in both directions. You can’t force the trust, of course, it will turn up when the conditions are right. The conditions lately have been ideal, and not just for me. Those of us making things now, at the dawn of digital, are sitting on a huge mound of trust like dreaming Smaugs, often without any plans for it, but the The Happenstance Project (now in its final week) has been about waking up and doing something with this resource. The internet has been blamed for economic distortion, as everything we once paid for is revalued at “free”, but the internet-of-things is changing the rules again, because it’s really the internet-of-people. It puts things back onto the same scale as humans. Now, I really love things that aren’t in scale with humans, like doll’s houses and motorways and baud rates. But fascinating as they are to visit, you wouldn’t want to live there. Rather than stripping value from existing material by generating and sharing it on scales beyond human comprehension, an internet of people asks who will make new stuff for a world where things are Things again, where materials, skills and ideas are worth money, and making still happens on a frame dictated by the limits of human bodies. And as humans are returned to the equation, a positive side to this new economy suddenly shows itself. Happenstance has been an exercise in people trusting people to deliver on their promises – so many good foundations, laid down on hope.
When trust comes it brings the highest quality results, fast. But that can’t be your goal either, of course, because it flourishes in a blind spot only when everything else is in place and by definition can’t be sought out or forced. Drop all your ambition and abandon your faceless “contacts” for a handful of people you have have hopes for and I think things will improve in every way. That’s how it starts – and that’s all you’ll ever need. It’s people!
If you’d like to hear me, James Jefferies and James Boardwell discuss art and technology in front of a small friendly audience, come along to our final Open House event at the Site Gallery this Thursday afternoon. Details.