(Editor’s note: This article is written by Kalpesh Muchhal – a student at IIM Bangalore, Batch of 2011. He takes a new, radical view at the concept of blogs, lifestories and social networking in general. You can write to Strat.in at email@example.com , if you have views to share with the Strat.in community as well)
A new concept in social networking
The first question you will probably ask is why? After all, isn’t it one of the major undertakings in life to write one’s autobiography? Don’t we need enough interesting experiences before we start writing one? And who will read it? What if I don’t want to reveal my details to someone else?
Well, let us take this up one by one. If you actually think about your life, at least in some ways, it is different from that of everyone else. It can be the movies we like, the people we adore, the particular flavor of coffee that we just need to have after getting in the morning. But more importantly, it is the ideas that we individually possess, and the ways in which we express them. Fingerprints can match sometimes, even DNAs can. But no two people, not even twins, think exactly the same.
And so each one of us has a unique life story to tell. Now if someone starts telling you about his or her experiences, at first it will appear to be random, unrelated information. After all, why would I care that someone started going to school at the age of 5, or that someone has a Doberman called Tommy? But as a story goes on, several important themes emerge. The state of the society one lives in, the beautiful and depressing things that one saw in life, the struggles one has had to make and the things learned from them, the unique ideas one possesses, and so many other concepts. All this is knowledge, which can help others, inspire others, bring about greater understanding, give rise to new ideas. Now combine 7 billion such stories, and you have got an ocean of such knowledge, which is probably the most valuable infrastructure in the world.
Is it a difficult task to write one’s story? It sure is. Firstly, it requires one to sit down for a good amount of time, go over one’s life, and think what are the things that have happened. Secondly, many of these things may be unpleasant, embarrassing, or not in line with one’s self-image. And when one gets over this, there is the whole task of putting it down into words. But, if you really think about it, its not necessary to write everything at one stretch. Nor is it necessary to talk about those experiences which you had rather not share, experiences which are very private. You write a paragraph, then you modify it a little, then after some time, you write another one, then maybe you see a pattern in both of them, and you modify both paragraphs and so on. Isn’t that how a story always gets written, bit by bit, and always emerging into something new?
Does a life story need to have a traditional conclusion, like victory at the end of pain, or rain after a long period of drought? Aren’t the most interesting stories those where the interpretation is left open? Think No Country for Old Men. Or Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End. And aren’t the most addictive stories those which do not end? Think Batman and Joker. A real life story has all these elements. The plot often changes, an experience may not have any goal, sometimes things are done just for fun. In fact, it is precisely this randomness and absence of conclusion that makes real life stories interesting.
Some people say they don’t have enough experiences to talk about. Firstly it is not the experiences in and of themselves that matter when you say your story to someone else, but what it meant to you that is more important. Secondly, I have never believed that people have nothing to write. That is only possible if a person has been in a dark room like Sanjay Dutt in Zinda for many long years (and even then there will be sufficient content). Another example. If you tell a 8 year old to describe what happened during the day, he/she will describe at great length all the things they did, the children they talked to, the games they played, what they thought of the stranger guy going around the corner, etc. So everyone of us have enough experiences. It just requires one to say that they are important.
Who will read it? One never knows. Say you are an ardent football fan, and your expertise of all things football comes out in your story. Next thing you know, many co-fans may want to hear more from you so that you start a nice football blog. Or maybe you were once stranded and lost in a forest, and you came up with a brilliant plan to get out and avoid becoming a meal of some carnivore. Someone in a similar situation may find your story useful. Say you are someone who battled a long-time disease but didn’t give up your spirit and enjoy good health now. Someone going through such distress may find your story inspiring. There are probably a countless ways in which sharing your knowledge through your life story will contribute to others and back to yourself. And while you are at it, you of course don’t have to reveal the names of your friends. You can easily take care of their and your privacy by not revealing personal details, without taking away anything from the story.
Wikipedia has been a phenomenal success in bringing people together to write on different topics. What comes out is often useful factual information and conventional wisdom. A lot of structured information. But is that enough? The vast majority of the knowledge lying within our heads is unstructured, individualistic, not belonging to any pre-specified topic. We somehow need this unstructured knowledge to come out, for it is as useful as its structured counterpart.
So I felt a site was in order and have started a project called Bionama.com. Its free and will never have a business model (maybe a donation button in the future is the way to go). After all, its supposed to be a common pool of stories and ideas, just like a water pond. The stories are in Creative Commons. Well, the site is up and working, but it still needs a lot of help from everyone who can help. Probably the biggest task is making it accessible to everyone in the world, for not everyone has internet access, atleast regularly. But there are other things too, like how to make it searchable enough to be useful, what features should go in, should it be minimalistic or completely embrace social networking features (I have thought the former is better in this case). Need your help in figuring this out. You can start writing your story. But also suggest how to improve upon the idea further. Thanks.
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