It’s springtime in New Orleans after 2 and a half years of
winter. A rebirth has begun — new flowers are blooming along the sides
of streets that were once underwater. I was there for a sunshine-filled
week in April during French Quarter fest. Musicians played out on the
streets in their fedoras and shades and none of the clubs charged a
cover. I’d never been to the city before and felt welcomed by its
chilled out vibe and music at every corner — but also by its open, at
times jarring displays of pain and lonesomeness — some somber, some
festive, and some that were both at once. This lack of pretense sets
the stage for a very liberated yet melancholic scene: the blues that
made the city famous have themselves been beaten a deep, steel drum
azure to match the nighttime skies over the levees. All that’s left is
to play it — to bang on the stars and let the world know that this
mythical place is rising again.

I went to check it out and
saw firsthand the NEW New Orleans that I’d been reading about in
colorful dispatches NOT found in the national news — which has long
since moved on from chronicling the city’s grim struggle — but in the
form of the triumphantly poetical “tweets” of a woman named Evelyn
Rodriguez, or “eve11” as she calls herself on Twitter, the
micro-blogging social network where I hang out online. A Twitter user
publishes “tweets,” or tiny posts of 140 characters about whatever it
is they’re doing — however banal or inadvertently poetical — “everything
from what they had for lunch, or what airport they're stuck in…to
profound declarations of revolutionary activism and links to emerging
tech tools”
— for a group of followers who have added them to the
list of people from whom they want to receive tweets. These can be
people they already know in real life or online, or they can be total
strangers that they find through Twitter itself or a Twitter search
engine such as Summize.

Eve11’s
tweets heralded a Southern hipster/zydeco punk peer-to-peer renaissance
that was a citywide version of the kind of awakening that I was
experiencing on a personal level. Her messages of hope and resiliency
came at just the right time, in just the right way, and were the
tickertape proof that the profound change that I felt in my own life
was happening all around the world and that I didn’t want to keep quiet
about it anymore.

This isn’t really the right way to put it
— as Evelyn would surely agree; it’s hard to make sense out of
enlightenment with words, but here goes:

I’ve realized that
we’re in the midst of a speeding up of the rate of exchange between our
thoughts and desires on the so-called “inside” and that which actually
happens on the so-called “outside”…a speeding up which will eventually
prove such distinctions between inside and outside to be arbitrary in
the first place…

(but more on that later)

Twitter is
perhaps the most fluid of all the major social networks. When I’m on
Twitter I’m tuning into “collective life streams” as opposed to
interacting as a member of a criteria-based group. The fact that
Twitter is mobile and able to be used by text messaging via cell phones
provides new possibilities for making the most out of “between”
moments. Many people find the time to tweet as they travel between the
places where groups meet — in other words, when they are outside of
the group and defined only by their individuality. This in turn opens
them up to the possibility of finding new groups from far flung places
on the social graph. Tweets take place in taxi cabs and in airports,
while waiting for trams and waiting for a concert to start. A group
could be formed around people who are fans of a movie — or around
passengers stranded together at an airport who use Twitter to craft a
“real time” letter of complaint to an airline CEO. Twitter is about
being untethered from the world of heavy buildings and offices and
computers, but at the same time being aware and informed. The more
people you follow, the wider net you cast with which to gather
information. I follow fewer people than many and I still hear about
most breaking international, national and citywide news from someone on
Twitter first.

Twitter is a great tool for DIY,
self-organizing “un-groups” such as the stranded airline passengers
mentioned above. As the name would imply, an un-group doesn’t have a
membership policy or an explicitly agreed upon set of rules and
hierarchies. Un-groups aren’t meant to be solemn brother or sisterhoods
that one swears an oath to uphold. They are the practical, quick and
easy collaborative attempts to solve any number of problems. What’s
more, the specificity of the un-groups makes it such that belonging to
one doesn’t define you as a person — perhaps you work as an executive
for Phillip Morris trying to figure out how to sell more cigarettes but
also coordinate your neighborhood’s recycling efforts in a city or a
town where the municipality refuses to do it.

We live in a
society that has learned to accommodate such contradictions. For most
people it’s not (yet?) about giving up their former lives — they’re
still trying to fit the change that’s underway within their lives as
they currently exist, instead of allowing the change to dismantle the
old framework entirely. The good news is that the revolution/evolution
only needs the exact amount of time and the exact amount of resources
that you’re able to give to it. Not everyone is ready to leave behind
every single vestige of the old way of being behind–nor is that
necessarily what is required. Enlightenment isn’t about becoming
someone else, but becoming more uniquely YOU:

"There's a myth
that awakening and the ever-unfolding enlightening is only for saints,
Buddhists, someone holier than thou, someone special,
someone-anyone-else. (Ha! I'm totally busting the saint archetype – my
imperfections have never been more glaringly obvious and wholly okay.)
We think we'd become something Other, maybe we'll morph into Mother
Teresa or Jesus or Buddha or Joan of Arc or god knows. That's not it —
we become more nakedly ourselves, without the burden of maintaining an
awkward and cumbersome image of ourselves (we most certainly do not
become anyone else)."–Evelyn

The old, outdated structures are cracking and tumbling down under the
weight of their own overhead. We’re entering an entirely new paradigm,
not just a change of power in the old. Obama becoming President, as
great as he seems to be, is not what’s going to make this huge change
happen. Things will change forever when people all across the globe
realize that they can effectively organize without big corporations,
the church or the government and that a new level of power to the
people is FREE for the taking. The effects of the proliferation of
these new kinds of un-groups (which is to say, new, non traditional
groups) is the focus of Internet Analyst Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes
Everybody:

"The increase in the power of both individuals and
groups, outside traditional organizational structures, is
unprecedented. Many institutions we rely on today will not survive this
change without significant alteration and the more an institution or
industry relies on information as its core product, the greater and
more complete the change will be. The linking of symmetrical
participation and amateur production makes this period of change
remarkable. Symmetrical participation means that once people have the
capacity to receive information, they have the capability to send it as
well. Owing a television does not give you the ability to make TV
shows, but owning a computer means that you can create as well as
receive many kinds of content, from the written word through sound and
images. Amateur production, the result of all this new capability,
means that the category of 'consumer' is now a temporary behavior
rather than a permanent identity."—(Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, 107-108)

This is the cultural equivalent of a multi-million person flash mob —
since there isn’t an official group to raid, censor or arrest, the
revolution of the un-group can’t be stopped or adequately contained —
at best it can be temporarily aggregated in community nooks and
crannies. It turns out that we don’t need to spend the time and energy
to be a part of highly structured groups with large overhead costs and
time-sucking bureaucracies. Acting as non-managed, highly motivated
un-groups of individuals tends to be a more effective and efficient way
of doing things. An example of this is the tremendous growth of Wikipedia,
the online, user-generated encyclopedia. This unmanaged, unpaid,
ungroup effort is the result of over 100 million hours of work. The
cost of managing a project of this scale would have been astronomical
— but in the case of Wikipedia, the un-group worked collaboratively
and the product came together organically.

Evelyn’s tweets made me realize that the crossover was happening — that this new way of self-organizing had spread offline.

Sure there are kids who are wide AWAKE in every city in every country
but in order for a really new way of being to truly take hold, the old
way of doing things to be called into question and/or done away with
altogether. As everyone knows, most of New Orleans was left to drown
after Katrina — a botched and tardy response by all responsible
governmental agencies went largely unpunished even after “You’re doin a
heck of a job, Brownie,” and similar media bites were broadcast
endlessly around the world. Many poorer residents who survived were
given one-way tickets out of the city, in some cases as far away as
Utah, and not offered a viable way to return home. Some are scared to
come back, upon hearing reports of increased crime and levees that
still aren’t fully repaired. “Why should I let them finish me off?” is
the reasoning of some.

If there was ever a place in which a
brand new way of living could take root in America, this was it. Based
on eve11’s tweets, a new America is exactly what is being dreamed into
being:

eve11: OH, an hour ago: "This is so New Orleans, I love it." Ref'ing Casey's Cozmic Drum Cage Interplanetary Rhythm" installation.

eve11:
Couldn't describe half these hacked diginstruments at NoizeFest. Music
may not be entirely my scene, but I love backyard roadshows anyhow.

eve11:
Chaz Fest is quintessentially New Orleans. DIY, hand-drawn signs, live
local bands, homecooked (yum crawfish dumplings) in funky backyard.

eve11:Musing
aloud of a New Orleans neo-renaissance BarCamp-style unconference for
grassroots folks to dream, ignite, share.Maybe at XO Studios.

I quickly became addicted to these “verbal snapshots” about a
renaissance that she likened to a start-up at a city/neighborhood
level. Healers, activists and social entrepreneurs were moving into the
frontierland of the still decimated flood ravaged neighborhoods and
turning garbage into gold. She told of barter galleries and the
organization “Food Not Bombs” offering weekly free meals made from food
rescued from grocery store dumpsters. She reported upon the politicized
messages and murals that the city’s graffiti artists put up as well as
their ongoing war against the “Gray Ghost”, an angry ex-marine waging
his one man war against graffiti. He covers it up wherever he finds it
(including historical buildings or street signs) with a coat of gray
paint that is in many cases more unwanted than the original graffiti.
Despite this ex-marine’s vigilante efforts, the artists persist,
tagging walls with slogans such as “Disobedience is progress” and “We
have a lot of ? work to do”.

There were art shows on front lawns and inside old multi-family
“shotgun” houses (named so because of their long, barrel like design)
and abandoned homes that had themselves been turned into pieces of
art—like the one filled with dirt that’s literally blooming with
flowers from its windows, nooks and crevices with flowers. One friend
of hers owned two houses — one was destroyed by Katrina, another by a
fire. She tweeted about how he rebuilt one and cleared out the lot of
the second—his plan being to turn it into a communal shamanic garden
space.

Twitter’s “rushing river of brevities”– as described
by the web usability analyst and social media specialist (as well as
noise musician and anarchist) Vaspers the Grate
— is well suited for brainstorming new possibilities. The
juxtapositions have a Beat-like quality to them of being startling
enough to suggest new ideas and connections. The way in which the
immediacy of the cut-up effect takes precedence over the actual content
of the tweets resembles Burroughs’ recipe for finding what he referred
to as “intersection points” in his essay, “In Present Time”:

"Now try this take a walk a bus a taxi do a few errands sit down
somewhere drink a coffee watch tv look through the papers now return to
your place and write what you have just seen heard felt thought with
particular attention to precise intersection points." –William
Burroughs, “In Present Time”

His instructions sound a lot
like the transcript from a typical afternoon’s worth of tweets except
with Twitter you get even more chances for intersection points as the
technology allows you to have other peoples’ “present time” interwoven
with yours. Part of what I connect with Evelyn on is her ability to see
the potential of social networks as artistic mediums for creating real
time analogues of human consciousness. Several years ago (“in another
lifetime”, as she puts it) she was a social media consultant living in
the Bay Area. A series of dramatic events, including her experience as
an injured survivor of the 2004 Tsunami–as well as her return visit to
the beach where it happened in Thailand a year later —led her to put
aside and eventually give up her career and focus instead on
collaborating in the global awakening that she realized was going on.
She made art herself and helped others to make it. She “rolled into
action” to help the needy not out of obligation but simply because it
felt right.

The essential spontaneity of life — of the
naturally winding path that our imaginations like to take when left
free to wander — is something that Evelyn feels is captured well on
Twitter, and why she encourages other free-spirits to use it as a tool
of expression. Recently, she began Twitter Twainings on Thursdays in
New Orleans in order to help teach local residents how to use the
service:

"Summer, for me, is a time of live meals. Of
lightness. I think that's why I'm smitten with Twitter. Simple.
Spontaneous. Flirtatious. No craft, no technique, no scripting, no
editing, no hemming and hawing, no trying to achieve the perfect post.
Now, and now, before you blink – just blurt your heart out." —Evelyn

Since deciding to follow her heart, Evelyn has still had hard times,
but it was through these times that she was inspired to help create new
ways of being. On her blog she writes about being broke and hungry in
San Francisco and feeling like an outcast from the world of restaurants
and people feasting happily on food that would be thrown away if not
finished. During her darkest moment she went for a walk and discovered
a row of fruit trees on a street in her neighborhood that she’d never
noticed before — branch after branch laden with ripe, succulent fruit.
These fruit trees became her main source of sustenance in the weeks
ahead. It was this experience that inspired her to formulate her Pan
Mesa vision of a future in which fresh and whole locally grown foods
are available free for everyone:

"Divide, and conquer. A
very, very ancient tactic to breed war and conflict — and maintain the
illusion of control and power over others. So, if we want to reclaim
our power, sometimes the simplest of things to do start by meeting me
at the table. We'll see where things go from there. Stretch me, why
don't you?

"I believe that everyone brings something to the
table. That we as human beings have more common interests than
separate. If only we would sit down together, share some bread and tea,
and converse." —Evelyn

The Pan Mesa vision
is one of eating to celebrate the fact that you have food by sharing it
with as many others as possible. It’s a philosophy for offline living
based in part upon the new world of the internets, where open source
software makes having your own website and the ability to share with
others cheap, easy and fun. In most cases, the idea is to get as many
people as possible to come over and share in whatever you have posted.

There are pessimists who declare that the rise of the internet is
detrimental to having a tight circle of friends, as it makes people
spend less time outside with others and more time alone in front of
their computers. Evelyn and others (such as Stowe Boyd — in his essay on web friendship, which Evelyn links to in her own post on
the subject–argue that it’s having the opposite effect and fostering a
new version of friendship—one that is more open, more fluid, more
diverse, and less determined by the hard facts of the groupings you
belong to (where you work, where you go to school, where you live) and
more by your interests. A Pan Mesa vision of friendship is one that is
about a feeling of connectedness created by giving gifts and making
things for one another — like blog posts or mixtapes or being
available for long IM conversations in the middle of the night when no
one else is answering your calls or texts in your time zone.

Even if you don’t know their real name — or what they look like.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a place or need for neighbors and
best friends who stick by you over the years through thick and thin —
but this is about creating MORE opportunities for a deeper kind of
hanging out that isn’t confined to going shopping together or eating at
fancy restaurants or “partying”. It’s bringing something from the
oldest parts of human civilization — the communal meal–together with
the newer notion of the quick, flexible and easy to form un-group:

"September 7, 2007

9/11 and home is where the hearth is

A Twitter friend muses:

What would happen if everyone except health and emerg services took
next Thursday 'off'? No business, no driving. Just self-reflection.

And then: Maybe even cook a meal at home? From scratch?

What if we invited our neighbors over too?

Not Just Another Day in the Neighborhood, Let’s Gather the Neighborhood to Cultivate Peace

…is the subtitle for the Make Tea, Not War Communi-teas I’m kicking off Sunday and Tuesday.

I think my Twitter buddy meant next Tuesday, September 11th too.

But heck, why not next Thursday, or the following Wednesday? And then
picking up steam, every spur of the moment thereafter? Rotate homes.
Use twitter and SMS to broadcast to your friends and neighbors
spontaneous get-togethers like:

Paul brought home tons of heirlooms, twitter or text back if you’d like to come over at 6.

Or: Masala chai brewing. With goat cheese and figs from Saratoga farmer’s market. Ready in hour. Come over to Bev’s." —Evelyn

As I said somewhat cryptically at the beginning of this post — Twitter
quickens the rate of return between ourselves and the universe — what
we put out through Twitter often comes back to us in a new and
unexpected way that’s beholden to an exact moment in time. I don’t know
how it works exactly, but I think it’s similar to how a DJ at a club
reads the vibe of the crowd and responds with a track that somehow
manages to hit each individual like a deliciously distorted echo of
their own voice telling them everything they needed to hear. “How could
the DJ KNOW that’s what I was feeling?” one is left to exclaim. Twitter
telepathy is based on the same complicated invisible connections
between members of various un-groups which makes it also seem like
magic.

In the case of @eve11
the “telepathy” happens at an uncanny frequency. There are times when
I’m sitting around, thinking hard about something when a buzz will come
through on my phone and it will be Eve11 tweeting my exact thoughts. I
began to wonder if there might be some mind reading involved after all.
When I met her in person at Flora’s café in NOLA, she was relaxed,
smiling, yet also very serious and steady. I didn’t feel any sensation
of her trying to push her way into my thoughts or read me too closely.
Instead her presence was like the rest of Flora’s—deeply welcoming yet
slightly sad at the same time, and after a few minutes I realized that
I’d never have a single answer as to why I’d felt compelled to come.
Something to do with Twitter and the major transformations happening in
the world and in my life, and how I was having a harder and harder time
keeping it hidden.

We talked about writing and Twitter and
not drinking and her former life as a consultant as neighborhood locals
and national guardsmen stopped in for coffees to go.

As we
finished our iced teas and got ready to leave she told me about how
she’d read A Wrinkle in Time for the first time the week before in one
sitting. She’d then gone on to read one of the sequels — A Swiftly
Tilting Planet. She told me she liked the part in A Wrinkle in Time
when Calvin feels compelled to walk out to the haunted house in the
woods, where he runs into Meg and her younger brother, Charles. They
ask him what he’s doing there and he can’t tell them. There was no
other reason — no deeper explanation — just a compulsion to be at
certain place.

“I really like that,” Evelyn said, and smiled
as the barista walked around behind her, snapping off the café lights
one by one.

“I like that too,” I said, my heart pounding in
my ears. A Wrinkle in Time had been my favorite book when I was a
little girl. Out of the blue a month or so prior I’d ordered a used
first edition copy off of Amazon. Oddly enough, I’d never read the
subsequent books in the series.

“You should,” Evelyn said,
her eyes sparkling. In A Swiftly Tilting Planet she writes about
kything, a wordless one-to-one kind of telepathy and a way of being
present with one another across time and space.”

“Really?
Well, I’ll definitely have to read it,” I said. I reached over and
pulled out my copy of A Wrinkle in Time from my bag. Evelyn smiled and
looked only slightly surprised to see it.

“I think I’d like to find out more about kything.” I said.

The barista switched off the last set of lights and we were cast as
statues by the amber streetlights outside—themselves reflected in
Evelyn’s sparkling eyes:

Our world in stupor lies

Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair
Show an affirming flame.

–W.H. Auden, “September 1, 1939”

Sign up on Twitter for FREE at http://twitter.com and follow fellow Evolvers!

–JP (me) on Twitter.

–Tweets from and inspired by Reality Sandwich

–Daniel Pinchbeck on Twitter