Tell A Passing Stranger

Anyone is welcome to do anything they like with what was started by somebody else. This is a page about the function of passing strangers in carrying messages through networks.

There are pointers here that go nowhere, to stuff that others may be much better at explaining. By testing to see what happens with one post, other people might fill in these blanks with what they know.

the idea

## first principle: small places

Small public spaces host communications that are independent of prior relationships. Strangers thrown together in time share something they know or think (what time is it? looks like rain, eh?). Oftentimes we test each other's credibility before deciding whether to accept what we've learned.

If messages are recorded and stored locally, strangers can come along at different times to orient themselves to confusing situations. Do our edits create the confusion or the orientations?

Nineteenth century explorers in Australia often left messages, waymarkers or supplies for each other buried near trees, not always successfully. What happened to waymarkers that were never found?

Strangers can develop intense bonds with even the idea of one another, without meeting. Walt Whitman,"To A Stranger", Leaves of Grass 1990: "I am not to speak to you—I am to think of you when I sit alone, or wake at night alone, I am to wait—I do not doubt I am to meet you again, I am to see to it that I do not lose you." poem

Strangers on long pilgrimages like the Camino de Santiago pass news up and down the line about the condition of the road or places to stay.

Similarly, urban tagging stores social data locally but for others to see later. These interactions can work like the Slow Hunch.

In 1994 Australian artist Mike Parr' set up an installation, Father's II: Law of the Image (1994), a fully enclosed cubic maze which strangers encountered each other and navigated together in darkness. website . Participants reported quickly becoming attached to the presence of strangers.

excerpt from gallery viewing

I entered the maze at 10am the next morning. Stepping into that black void seemed comparable to jumping out of a plane and I lingered at the verge for longer than was reasonable. That was the first obstacle. Walking tentatively in the pitch black, I let my steps register traces in what I hoped would be workable mental map. It seemed a matter of finding the void’s logic. When one avenue failed I returned to the junction and explored the other. I was actually glad when I eventually lost my sense of direction—knowing where you are all the time can be a burden. The way out seemed to occur by chance. After weaving through a cluster of tight corners I found a long corridor at the end of which a light beckoned. But when I reached what I thought was the exit, I found in fact that I was back where I began, at the entrance. Clearly, I’d taken a wrong turn. Seeing myself as someone who doesn’t give in easily, I returned to the void.

Second time around there was a new obstacle—something more terrifying than the dark labyrinth itself: another human being. From a distance I could hear the steps, and then the voice calling for reassurance. I replied, happy to lead the way but terrified that we might come face to face, or breath to breath. Despite my progress, I seemed to be getting closer to him. I’m not sure which sense told me, but eventually I was certain that he was right in front of me. I stopped. The voice thought we should team up. This seemed against the artist’s intentions, but I was interesting to see how two people could work together without taking subtle cues from each other’s appearance. This seemed to go smoothly until my fellow traveller double backed suddenly from a dead end and our heads collided. We decided to go our separate ways and more voices started filtering into the maze.

end quote

## second principle: change over time

What happens next, when the strangers go their separate ways, forking local knowledge to share with their own networks?

Gerolamo Induno, The Pedlar, 1879

This highlights the role of people who travel around passing on news from one place to another. It also suggests the importance of places that are designed to sustain encounters between strangers: the nodal marketplaces of ideas.

Digital networks exploit Tell a Passing Stranger principles in order to achieve rapid growth. They do this though forwarding, quoting and requoting, reblogging, retweeting as ways of attracting strangers to conversations; and then through keeping strategies that curate the knowledge that strangers bring: liking, favouriting, bookmarking, upvoting, tagging, bragging.

These practices depend on two things: first, tagging that makes ideas visible at scale, and second, shared conventions for determining trusted sources. These systems don't entirely prevent human bandwidth depletion.

Therefore one critical dependency is on folksonomy that works. The second dependency is verification. What if someone wants to go back to check something in the original, both as it was then and as it is now? Related to academic citation.

## Trouble, issues, related ideas

An emerging problem for SFW is change propagation. If an original SFW article is a work in progress, can the SFW itself notify correction, retraction and adjustment without contradicting the principle of forking for own use? How can messages about idea updates propagate lightly forwards or backwards through small federated networks? How can passing strangers be alerted to help?

Tell a Passing Stranger may relate to version control, backwards compatibility.

Critical issues including whose messages are valued and amplified through Tell a Passing Stranger principles connects to feminist questions of Constructed Knowing and Wikipedia erasing women's voices, to issues of Identity and Provenance in authorship, and to peer support of learners faced with Troublesome Knowledge.