A Preface for a Community

In December, 100 brave souls joined Uncommon in Common as Founding Members. The experience began with a package delivered to members in nine countries, a rather uncommon start for an online community. Inside was an 8x10 screen print, three postcards to return, a button and sticker, and two original essays: "A Preface for a Community" by Jack Cheng and "The API of You" by Kathy Sierra.

A few years ago, I joked with some friends that I was going to start the world’s slowest social network.

The world’s slowest social network would have no signup page or landing page, let alone a website. To recruit people for the world’s slowest social network, I would make tearaway fliers using a sharpie pen and tape the flyers onto lamp posts across Manhattan. The fliers would have a PO box address on it, and to sign up, you would have to mail a letter to the PO box address with your desired username and password. The first mailing you received from the world’s slowest social network would be a hand- drawn form with your username and password repeated in it, and an extra blank box below asking you to confirm your password and mail the form back. If the passwords didn’t match, you would get another letter telling you your password was incorrect and please rewrite your password in the box below and mail it back to the PO box address. The logo for the world’s slowest social network would be a snail. The name would be Snailurr (because ‘Snailor’ was too much like ‘Sailor’ and ‘Snailr’ felt like the name of a porno site).

I was never really serious about Snailurr. It was always one of those Maybe Someday ideas that would’ve taken a lot of time and stamps. I had completely forgotten about it until Brian approached me about writing a letter for this Tangibly Uncommon mailing. It was then that I remembered what, once you got past all the silly business, remained at the heart of the world’s slowest social network. At the heart of the world’s slowest social network was the desire to hold a mirror up to our digital habits, and in the process impel us to recognize the things we do online without thinking. It was to eventually create connections and interactions that would otherwise be lost in a haze of alerts; to get people to stop for a few minutes and maybe even write something with pen and paper.

Here’s the thing about technology: for everything we gain, we lose something in return. We’re like the clown in the circus act, carrying an armload of bright rubber balls. We pick up one ball and drop another, and we go on, convinced we’ve made progress when all we have is a different set of balls. We’re nostalgic for the way things were, yet we crave the things that are not yet, and I have found no other way to come to terms with this than to acknowledge both what we have gained and lost, and at times look at the balls we’ve dropped and say, no, actually I’d rather keep that.

One of those bright rubber balls is Thoughtfulness. Another is Intimacy. A third is Neighborliness. They’re qualities that have pervaded Uncommon since the very beginning, from Brian’s initial blog post through the emails we’ve received in the past weeks. They’re qualities that facilitate friendship, empathy, serendipity. And they’re qualities that I hope will remain in our arms, as we build the world’s slowest social network the only way it can be built: a step at a time, together.

Jack Cheng