It’s more than 15 years since I wrote the posts below, retrieved today because Barry Wellman isn’t well. I had a conversation with his beloved wife Bev, who is at his side, and found myself wondering just when it was that we first met. To my astonishment I see that I recorded it – in a form akin to Twitter or Notes long before either existed. (I did not record the fact that I was in the shower, presumably after that early morning astanga yoga class, when he phoned to ask me to come to Albany. Nor did I record part of our conversation, when he asked about my husband. He later told me that he had grokked that my marriage was not going to last.)
March 20, 2007: What a morning. I’ve just heard that the well-known sociologist Barry Wellman, with whom I’ve worked for several years, is giving the 8th annual Lewis Mumford Lecture on “What has the Internet done to community?” at SUNY Albany. He and his colleagues are urging me to drop everything and drive to Albany today. Barry realized only this morning that I must be quite close to Albany–he’s traveling from Toronto. This is such a conjunction of desirable things that I may just not be able to resist (topic, plus Mumford, plus Barry), though given my departure for Beijing early Thursday morning and the yoga workshop I’m attending morning and evening, it does create some complications. But being a believer in real world, in-person meetings, this seems too good to pass up.
March 22, 2007: The change in plans that took me to Albany on Tuesday was well worth it. I got to see Nelson Rockfeller’s extraordinary monumental additions to the city (talk about an edifice complex), which include something that looks like a toilet, and a collection of state buildings that look like Stalinesque dominos standing in a row. Lewis Mumford is perhaps best known for his decades as the architectural and art critic for the New Yorker. These buildings are from the ’60s, so we don’t have his comments, but I amused myself by imagining them. I had never met Barry, though we’ve worked together on two projects and corresponded about others, and I think we were both a bit nervous. What a delight to find that we hit it off even better in person than online. He sweetly told the audience that I was the only person he considers a friend whom he had not met before. What a perfect occasion to meet at last, given that his subject was the Internet’s effects on human relationships! I will write about his presentation, because there were some facts from his team’s research that I found particularly enlightening, and observations and questions that are so obvious, once you think about it, that I felt a bit chagrined not to have wondered before. (For example, how many of the millions of accounts on MySpace are active? How much online communication takes place between people who actually see one another every day?) This knowledge really need to become part of the business discussions of social media that I frequently find myself involved in. But for now, since I leave for Beijing in a couple hours, I’ll just share a photo of the two of us.
Karen Christensen is an entrepreneur, environmentalist, and occasional scholar who also writes about how women gain and wield power. She is the owner and CEO of Berkshire Publishing Group, a research associate of the Fairbank Center at Harvard, a member of the National Committee on US-China Relations, and founder of the Train Campaign. She was a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Press, Read Karen’s occasional dispatches from the frontlines of international publishing at Karen's Letter on Substack, and follow her on Twitter etc @karenchristenze.