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Disbandment of the Tribes? August 3, 2007

Posted by malthusio in Uncategorized.
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In his book, “Eastern Standard Tribe”, Cory Doctorow builds a story around the obsessive culture of time tribes. In a society that is remnicient of Castells “network society” (the main character is a “user experience designer” who was practicaly written from a template for Castells networker), where globalization has rendered physical geography irrelevant, people define thier personal identities by affiliation with a time zone. Each time zone is seen as embodying a different ethos, and tribe members are intensely loyal to each other, and often antagonistic towards each other.

Not all people identify themselves with a time tribe, or even have any association with one, but for those with no physical roots or geographic attachment, they offer ideological stability. The main character is of course, a member of the “eastern standard tribe”, whose ethose involves workaholism, careerism, and other things that are commonly associated with the stereotype of people working in business or IT in the Toronto area. Generaly the characters spend thier time sabotaging companies in other time zones, in the same way that a flame war might be perpetuated online.

Thier lives also have a heavy online comonent, and of course, not matter what time zone the characters might find themselves in, they are obsessive to make sure that they are online during the time when other members of thier time tribe would be online. This novel was written before Facebook, but not that much before. Doctorow’s idea of the time tribes was predicated on the idea of real time interaction. If you were a member of a time tribe, you lived in the circadian rythems of that time zone, and used whatever stimulants and sedatives (typicaly melatonin) that were necesary to keep you (just barely) functioning within your geographical time zone. This was because you would interact with people from your time tribe using instant messaging or phone SMS texing, or possibly in some other way.

But if the dominant paradigm of online communication is becoming asynchronous, as with social networks, as opposed to instant messaging, does this signify the disbandment of the tribes? After all, you would have no reason to live the circadian rythems of your time tribe if you don’t interact with them in real time. At the same time, I suppose it’s also possible that social networks might never become a truly significant forum of interaction for tribals anyway. Or perhaps they will simply be marginalized, if this is possible. Doctorow was being somewhat sarcastic when he wrote “Eastern Standard Tribe” book (I think anyway), so I’m not sure how pervasive he actualy meant his idea of the tribes to be. The time tribes were a subculture to be sure, but in the book they were portrayed as a kind of shadowy underworld with vast networks of connections. The main character got all of his jobs through his connections with the eastern standard tribe, even though he was never qualified for any of them, and had little official education.

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