Interviews

Sharing dinner

Not long ago, a few friends invited themselves to my place for dinner. I didn’t mind (much) because I always enjoy the opportunity to cook for guests. For most of the last decade, I hadn’t had a flat big enough to entertain in; for the past year, in a new, much larger home, I’ve hosted regular dinner parties. As a Sicilian-American, I learned how to cook long before I learned how to drive, first from my father, and then from my grandmother. After uni, I lived with her for a few years, and she taught me all her recipes. The most spectacular of these, braciole – thinly-sliced steaks stuffed with goodies like breadcrumbs, cheese, and pepperoni – takes hours to prepare, and often becomes a day-long task. We only ever had braciole at big Pesce family gatherings like Thanksgiving and even  Christmas.

I reckoned I’d impress my friends with something they’d probably never eaten – a nice braciole dinner – gathered up the ingredients, and set out to cook. Along the way, I had a brainwave: why not document the entire recipe? I could use my mobile to snap photos at various points in the process, and then post those to my 22,000 Twitter followers. Anyone reading my Twitter stream would have a step-by-step breakdown of how to make braciole. And who wouldn’t want that?

Over the course of the next eight hours, I’d go through one step of the recipe, take a set of photos, then, between steps, compose an instructional text to go along with the photos. By the end of the day, every detail had been provided, accompanied by a picture of my culinary creation. Everyone had the tools they needed to make their own braciole – if they had access to those eight hours of my Twitter stream. Anyone not taking notes – and saving the photos as they came along – would be lost. The recipe was a thing of the moment. Like jazz, you had to be there.

Just after I finished cooking, one of my Twitter followers sent me a link to a site known as Storify. The site allows you to turn a series of tweets into a narrative, by placing them all into a single web page, along with any media that may be attached to the tweets. This follower – @S7U – had done precisely this with my grandmother’s braciole recipe. Anyone who has access to the web can use the recipe for themselves. @S7U had turned my live Twitter feed into a cookbook.

We all share, and we like to be seen as knowledgeable, so we tend to share from what we know. I know all about braciole; @S7Us knows all about how to turn my ephemeral sharing into something more permanent. We both shared what we knew, and together with our shared efforts profoundly multiplied the reach of that knowledge. It’s a small thing, but it happened seamlessly, effortlessly, and almost automatically. We didn’t have to do very much, and suddenly there’s a resource that everyone, everywhere can take advantage of.
We’re growing incredibly adept at sharing what we know, taking our own points of peculiar expertise, and presenting them to a world hungry for knowledge. For someone it might be the perfect soufflé or braciole, for others, a strategy for beating the latest computer game, still, others will share their best tips for saving energy or recycling waste or whatever else excites them. We do not lack for good ideas, we never have – but it has always been difficult to reach minds ready to take those ideas on board. There was too much friction to allow us to share all that we know with one another.

In the last decade, those barriers to sharing have come tumbling down. There’s no limit now to how far a good idea can go. Potentially, we each have the advantage of every good idea thought up by every one of us. We’re only just at the very beginning of understanding how to put this spectacular resource to work.

We need to be smarter, move faster, and adapt more quickly – because everyone is watching everyone else growing smarter, faster, and more adaptable. Everyone is sharing the best of what they know with everyone else. That might be the recipe for a delicious dinner, or it could be a cure for cancer – both are worth knowing, and both are being offered up by people who simply want to share what they know with the rest of us. Sharing changes everything for everyone.

Mark Pesce is the co-inventor of the VRML and founder of Future St, a Sydney media and technology consultancy.

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