On connection, community, and “dark matter”

A while ago, I bookmarked an interesting post at The Pastry Box about the idea of ‘dark matter developers’. When I recently stumbled upon it again and re-read it, the following passage stuck out to me:

Apparently 90% of the stuff in the universe is “dark matter”: undetectable, doesn’t interact with other matter, can’t be seen even with a really big telescope. Our “dark matter developers”, who aren’t part of the community, who barely even know that the community exists… how are we to help them?

This particular post is all about web development, which has an extremely vocal and active community that’s constantly innovating and moving the industry forward. However, as the author rightly points out, the loudest community members who are constantly delighting us with new and exciting techniques and projects are actually a very small minority. Though the point of that post was to compare the active community to a large group of sleepy, disengaged 9–5ers who aren’t paying attention, the idea of ‘dark matter’ in communities made me start to branch off on the topic of non-participation in a different way.

I started to think about how we can all be ‘dark matter’ in some situations but active in others. When is it okay to sit back and passively/sporadically consume and when is it better to publicly create and participate? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, like most things… it depends.

Being ‘dark matter’ is okay sometimes

When you first stumble upon a community that piques your interest, a natural reaction can be to sit back and quietly absorb as much as possible. For example, I read a bunch of interior design and cooking blogs and I’m perfectly happy to sit back and consume that information without adding much to the discussion myself. I don’t feel the need to be seen or heard in these communities because these aren’t really my main passions (though I do like them!), and I have no burning desire to become known as an expert, especially since I’m not one. I just want to learn! I might be known IRL as the person who obsesses over paint colours and cooks a pretty great risotto but that’s about it. I might get into reading about a topic for a while and then drop out of that sphere completely. No big deal.

And on the flip side, it’s nice to remember that there are always people out there silently enjoying what you put out. Even if you don’t always get a ton of likes, comments, or important social metric du jour and you feel as though you’re sometimes talking to air, there are always people out there who are enjoying what you’re putting out there and just aren’t inclined to participate.

But… being invisible doesn’t always feel good

On the other hand, chronically lurking in communities that really excite you can feel lousy. Feeling invisible sucks when you actually do have something substantial to say but are too scared or shy to say it. You’ll find yourself having great ideas that’ll be attributed to other people because they took the step of actually vocalizing it. You’ll find yourself following all sorts of great people in your industry/area of interest, but they’ll have no clue who you are. Maybe you have some great ideas to offer, and no one will ever know if you keep them to yourself. It’s that cliché about a tree falling – I think you know the one.

I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with community participation, to be honest. Sometimes I’m engaged and other times I tend to keep a little quieter, and either can feel right at the time. In general, though, I’ve come to think that if you’re either a) making money from something or b) really passionate about it, you owe it to yourself to put yourself out there and participate in your community — in whatever way and quantity feels best, of course. If you keep all your ideas to yourself, you’re doing a disservice to both yourself (after all, how can people hire you/collaborate with you/tell you you’re awesome if they don’t know what you’re up to?) and to the rest of the community (which will be lacking in your awesomeness).

This doesn’t mean turning yourself into someone that you’re not, because that’s a one way ticket to burnout land. I’m never going to be as loud or out there as some other people are because that’s just how it goes when you’re more on the more introverted side like I am. That’s okay! But regardless of how you connect, reaching out to other people and feeling like part of a community is really important and it’s worth the effort when it’s in an area you really care about.

K, that’s cool, but how do I start?

I’ll probably get into more detail about this in another post because there are so many ways to connect, but here are a few ideas to get you going:

  • Volunteering and teaching. I’ve met tons of amazing people because of mentoring and leading workshops through Ladies Learning Code. If you’re American, I think that Girl Develop It is similar.
  • Meeting people in person! I love me some Internet, but there’s nothing like connecting with someone in real life. Personally I most enjoy meeting up with people one-on-one, but when I want to meet some new people, meetup.com has approximately a zillion ways to do so. For example, if you’re a developer in Toronto, you could check out #DevTO or the Toronto WordPress Meetup Group.
  • Participating in Facebook groups, which are arguably one of Facebook’s only redeeming features these days (sorry, Facebook – it’s true). There are plenty to choose from – some are free to join while others are add-on components to paid e-courses. Some cool groups I belong to of include We Create The Internet and the Freelance to Freedom Project Community.
  • Joining a community of likeminded people. For example, I’m a part of SPARK, a community of designers that’s full of high quality people and interesting conversations.

How do you best like to connect? Or, hey, DO you even like to connect? I’d love to hear what you have to say.

P.S. Speaking of connection and community, the social network I’m most active right now is Instagram. If we’re not friends there yet, let’s change that!

Links! January 24, 2009

Copie d’Arte – This is amazing.  Basically, someone has recreated a bunch of famous artwork… using Lego!  As an Art History major who spent hours and hours playing with Lego as a child, I hereby pronounce this the coolest thing ever.

• In other related news, Lego is launching a new range of digital cameras and MP3 players.  I’m not quite sure how to feel about this!

5 Ways Blogging Can Make a Difference for You in This Economy from Problogger.  Something positive to think about in this glorious Recession Season.

Show Us Your Desktop at Bittbox takes a look at various designers’ desktops. I find it really interesting to see how other creative people organize their things.

• Last but not least, XKCD’s I’m An Idiot.  This will surely be a classic.

♥ Dara

Cinematic Inspiration: Vivre Sa Vie

Today I went with my brother David to the Bloor Cinema to see Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie (1962), starring Anna Karina (who, by the way, must be one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen on screen – and she was also Godard’s wife at the time the movie was being made!). I’m writing about it here because it caught my attention on many levels and left me thinking about it long after the screen went black and the words “La Fin” told me I was free to go.

First of all, the film was really interesting on a purely visual level. Godard and his fellow New Wave filmmakers were part of a movement that was deliberately taking moviemaking beyond the rigid, realism-based style of Classical Hollywood. In other words, you can tell that this film is a film, and it’s not aspiring to look like you’re viewing an uninterrupted slice of real life. You get scenes with obvious jump cuts, sequences where you view two characters talking without ever seeing their faces (!), and music that abruptly starts and stops for no reason. I find it refreshing when both you and the director can admit that you’re viewing a piece of artifice.

For all the artificiality and flourishes, however, Godard probably deals with more social issues in his movies than your average Hollywood director. Vivre Sa Vie tells the story of Nana, a struggling actress who turns to prostitution to make money. You can be sure that Godard was pointing the finger at problems in contemporary French society, and that Nana’s downward spiral wasn’t really her fault. Do I agree with his leftist political commentary and his tendency to blame big social forces over an individual’s choices? I can’t say he represents my point of view, but I find it interesting to read a film on a sociological and political level.

You also find a good smattering of existentialism and random philosophy that seemed to be fashionable in the mid-20th century. To be honest, most philosophical texts are way too dense for me to enjoy, so seeing bits and pieces of it in films makes it easier to digest! One of my favourite sequences in the movie (which was divided up into 12 parts) is in a café, where Nana and a random stranger discuss the meaning of words and truth. You can watch it below, and if you find the dialogue too pretentious (which it probably is), you can enjoy watching Anna Karina.

Speaking of which, even when I don’t really like a French New Wave film, I always enjoy it on an aesthetic level. The clothes, the makeup, the hair, the surroundings, the now-retro feel. I liked how Anna Karina’s look seemed to be a reference to Louise Brooks, another fashion inspiration to many people.

Vivre Sa Vie, part 11:

♥ Dara.