Dependence and Independence
Editor's Note: The following is the text of the September 1
edition of Doc Searls' SuitWatch newsletter.
to be a subscriber of this bi-weekly newsletter.
August 31, 2005--I hardly know where to begin. I'm rewriting the rewriting of a post
that's a story about one of the biggest events in US history, yet
one that's hardly begun.
Here's betting that the name Katrina, falling in popularity since it
peaked at #90 in 1980, will hit a new US low in 2005. It was #281
in 2004. (Source:
Social Security Administration.) Who would name
their kid after the hurricane that caused more destruction than any
other in US history--one which, among other sins, drowned New
Orleans, one of the world's most beloved cities, making refugees of
perhaps a million or more people, while killing thousands? From the day
after, estimated death tolls have been rising as an exponent, from
tens to hundreds to thousands.
I'm no fan of President Bush, but the speech he gave just after
5pm Eastern time on Wednesday, August 31, moved me to the
edge of tears. He's our country's leader, whether or not we voted for
him; and we needed to see and hear him lead. It's hard not to welcome
and appreciate his assurances and his compassion.
Listening to him, I was reminded of my
Uncle Chris, the best family
doctor I've ever known. From the 50s through the 80s, Uncle
Chris (Clinton S. Crissman, M.D.) was the town doctor for Graham, NC.
One time, in my early 30s, I had a medical scare that put me in the
Intensive Care Unit at Durham County General Hospital. I had a lot of
friends who were medical professionals, who came in to wish their
best and deliver plenty of Science, which I was glad to hear. Uncle
Chris came down from Graham, put his big warm hands on my ankles and
said "David, your job is to hold down the bed. You just listen to
what the doctors and nurses tell you to do, and you'll be all right."
(My own nickname is owed in part to an overpopulation of Davids. The
name was #6 in 1947 when I was born and peaked at #1 in 1960. It
finally fell out of the Top 10 in 1993.)
Those four words, "You'll be all right," had more healing power than
anything else I've ever heard. President Bush said much the same kind
of thing in his speech. It's a Southern Thing and a Family Thing.
It's what you want to hear from your dad after you've hurt yourself
or put your butt in a sling. It's an expression of faith maximized by
its understatement. It also leverages a dependency to endorse its
These two qualities--dependence and independence--are at the
heart of all growth, of all institutions, of all opportunity, of all
pursuit and achievement. We depend on that from which we grow in an
independent direction. That's what growing up is about. Same with
It's a gift with two sides, like a coin. This is what Uncle Chris and
Aunt Doris--his remarkable wife, sister of
my own remarkable mother--gave
their five boys. It's what my parents gave my sister and myself.
It's what I gave and continue to give to my own kids, most of whom
are now in their 30s and about as independent as they come.
It's also what makes a healthy market ecosystem, whether the category
is computing, publishing, retail, transportation or whatever. In
each, we are dependent on large vendors, major suppliers of
infrastructure and building materials--and in some cases on
government, though not too much of it. But more significantly, we
are independent of all those institutions.
What impresses me most, watching the whole connected world recover
from Katrina, is the growing context of connected independence. Take
for example the
Slidell Hurricane Damage Blog, created on Tuesday by Brian
Oberkirchs. As I wrote this (Wednesday, August 31), that blog
already had become Slidell's newspaper on the Web. Give it a read and try
not to be impressed by its mixture of independence--from all other
media--and dependence--on the ordinary folks who contribute to and
use it and the community they sustain in the absence of homes,
businesses and services on which they normally depend. Go to
and do a tag search for the word "missing". There are 225
listings so far. Most of them are as moving as the pictures of missing
loved ones on the walls outside the World Trade Center after 9/11/2001.
What you'll be seeing are standards, practices and services that
didn't exist three years ago. Those all live today in the World Live
Web, which is growing all over the place, almost entirely upwards
from the grass roots of technology and individual enterprise.
The Web we knew in 1995 was static: a province of "sites" and
"locations" that we "architected", "designed" and "put up" like real
estate projects, many of which were always "under construction". The
Live Web is filled with voice calls, instant messages, up-to-the
minute blogs and podcasts, syndicated news and media files from
countless individual sources. None of the Usual Suspects--the phone
and cable companies, government, standards organizations or even
large vendors such as IBM and Microsoft--invented it, even though to
some degree and in many places the Live Web depends on some or all of
Technorati, as with most of its competitors, runs on Linux, the LAMP
stack and other open-source building materials and practices, some of
which, such as tag search and the rel="tag" element, are of its own
invention. (Disclosure: I'm on the Technorati advisory board.)
Similar innovations are happening at
BlogLines and countless other new and
fundamentally independent companies. Big companies such as Google and
Yahoo help here and there, but they're not taking the lead.
They don't have to.
Fox and the other TV networks, I'm struck by how
much they seem to be coping with the realization that most of the
best sources, as well as most of the intelligence about What's
Actually Happening, are outside their organizations and those of
their competitors. They have to point to blogs such as Brian
Oberkirsch's, because that's where the best sources are.
Thus, those on which we depend come to depend on us.
Hard as it is, it's a form of growing up.
By the way, I first heard the term "World Live Web" from my son
Allen, who blogs at
I've been depending on it ever since.
Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux
Journal, for which he writes the Linux for Suits column.
He also presides over Doc
Searls' IT Garage, which is published by SSC, the publisher
of Linux Journal.