Tag Archives: discovery

The train-chasing shuffle

We’re not individuals all of the time; we’re occasionally herd animals, sometimes like flotsam sometimes like wheat, and yes, occasionally the lone wolf.

I’ve been noticing how people behave when a train’s approaching. Ok, it is usually during rush hour, with that 8am grogginess or 6pm urgency that I notice this, but it’s a valid enough time to observe collective behavior.

It brings to mind the interesting point that when it comes to observing our online behavior, we are simultaneously individual and collective in our patterns. We act on our own but are affected by the ebb and flow of other users in our motions and choices.

Take for example the train chasing shuffle. This is the condition where, as the train slows into the station, people feel the need to slowly shuffle towards the door that has just passed them. Even when the next door along is going to stop right in front of them, or will be much closer than the door they are chasing, they’ll follow the train along the platform.

At first I thought it was some sort of magnetic or gravitational force, the train pulling us along with it’s substantial mass or metallic might, but that doesn’t hold up.

A force far greater than either seems to be pulling us along.

So the question is: are we being pulled, are we influencing each other, is it the actions of one of us pulling the others along?

Perhaps it is a combination of all of these answers and more, a subtlety we cannot clarify easily. As someone who likes to understand engagement, attention, usability and user flow, these are the questions I have.

An expedition into the unknown

I remember the first time I ventured out into the void called the internet, back in 1994.

I had just spent more money than was sensible on a blisteringly fast 28.8k modem for my powerful PowerPC 7100AV (70MHz, 16MB RAM, 250MB HD!), and wandered out into the unknown. I know, I currently have a mobile phone with more power than that now, certainly more storage and definitely more speed, RAM and connectivity; but this isn’t one of those “my how technology has come a long way” blogs. The wondrous thing was the sense of immediate connection with the world. I felt like a new world explorer.

I was a photographer, keen on finding like-minded smudgers out there who wanted to talk lighting and printing techniques. Within a week of painfully configuring the modem with a manual connection string (some of you may remember that slice of arcane coding alchemy!) I discovered the site for Aperture, a photography magazine I highly respected, and ZoneZero, a photography site, early on the scene and still out there. By the end of the next week I managed to have a discussion with the Aperture editor by email, and before the end of the month I was swapping techniques for distressing prints and keeping models comfortable in awkward poses with Joel Peter-Witkin. … Yes, THE Joel Peter-Witkin!

Four letter expletives cannot do justice to the wondrous feeling of being in the middle of everything, connected to my heroes, effectively swapping recipes with the gods. I cannot express enough the amazement I had at finding immediate, friendly and wondrously easy communion with the entire world, for that is how it felt, from my garret studio in London in the mid 90’s. That pretty much made me drop my aspiration to be a highly regarded Commercial Photographer and embark on the road to web expert. ZoneZero was a social network for photographers back in the mid 90’s, and web 2.0 is really what Web 1.0 was supposed to be.

So the question is; do we take this interconnectivity for granted? Is it better to forget that fantastic tingle and stay in the present, glib in the comfort of familiarity, of being an expert? We hear heroin users say the first time they used was the best, and the rest of the addiction is trying to get that initial rush back just one more time. Do I want to be chasing that buzz from the past or be comfortable in my current expertise?

The answer to me is, in true Libran style, both!

I cannot forget what I know (my clients and colleagues would be pretty pissed off for one thing!) but I can try to look at each new site without my cynicism and critical faculties in overdrive. The commercial aspects of photography nearly killed my creative explorations (just how sexy can you really make a box of strepsils and do I really give a f***!) but the practical aspects of website creation continue to make me excited at what can be achieved. The challenges presented to the switched on, “get it” kind of agency I work at keep my veins tingling with the possibilities before me.

As excited as day one, my first hit is refreshed while my progress bar signals the collection of yet another page about to hit my screen with potential. I am still, and will probably continue to be, a fascinated New World explorer.