My name is William Tozier. You’re to call me “Bill”, but I prefer “Tozier” if you’re here in the room with me. You can just roll your eyes when I’m not there, and they’ll know who you mean.
I have no formal credentials in any field you care about, no matter how pretentious I might act in person. Even if I did, I probably wouldn’t tell you about them.
For the twenty years or so I’ve been a professional generalist, engineering encyclopedist, and know-it-all. Somebody once referred to me as the Knowledge Fixer. That’s a good way to think about it: act towards me as you might towards Mister Wolf from Pulp Fiction, but for fixing engineering projects in addition to cleaning up cars. Most of the tools I bring to bear are from the field of complex systems research and machine learning, fancy stuff involving “engineering emergent dynamics” and “machines that think”, genetic programming and artificial life and swarm intelligence and other self-important bullshit like that. If you know what any of that pretentious junk is, you probably already know somebody who knows of me or my work.
For the last ten years or so, I’ve been much more focused on what you might call “disintermediation of employment”, especially the Academy. Politely put, that sounds something like: Freelancers and independents, meaning people who live out here in the real world with actual jobs and bills and who have perfectly good educations but no access to grants, who pursue careers of diverse practicality and inarguable utility, deserve access to all the protections and rewards typically reserved for the coddled minions of the Academy. I do a lot of innocuous-sounding things that have to do with subverting the academic credentialing systems and cultural norms of science, engineering and humanities work. That involves building software and cultural systems permitting people to more easily work with printed material, discuss and explore complex systems and scientific stuff, build innovative stuff, and in general be more easily helpful to one another.
For the last five years or so, I’ve been focused on coworking communities and agile management, mainly as Vague Innovation, LLC. In March 2009 I became one of the earliest members of Workantile Exchange in Ann Arbor, and in November 2011 with three other members there arranged to take it over as a sort of owner/manager and re-launch it as Workantile. It’s now a private club for freelancers and remote employees, people who would otherwise be working in isolation at home or in coffeeshops. Now we share a place in the city where we can work independently with one another.
All those things overlap as part of one 20-year project.
You might detect an overarching theme in this twenty-year arc, maybe something about “new economies” and “makers” and the sort of “flat world is a different place because of the social Internet” popularizations you hear all the time in the popular press.
Yes, if you press the “what do you do?” question hard enough, it will become apparent that I do that stuff you eventually read about in edgy hipster geek places: digitization and artificial intelligence and mass customization and startups and junk on the Interwebz.
If you detect two themes in the story, then the second one will direct how you should treat the people around me. I’m an affable old soul, with some capacity left for bemusement. But these other innocuous-seeming folks I work with? The ones who seem to not be “doing much” but looking at laptops and chatting, most of the time? People who don’t trot out their Personal Branding Website or their CV right away? Who raise their eyebrows when you ask them “where they work”, and say “it’s complicated” when you ask about what they do?
I am privileged to be allowed to move among them, and I’m quick to remind you to act accordingly. Spend precious time with them to learn, and listen, and expect to be shown wonders, and to have your expectations broken and re-formed and in general to be made better by their plentiful gifts.
Because that second theme is about other people.
And if you can spell out the deepest-running theme of my life’s work… well, are you sure you want to? OK then.
Now you have some life choices to make, don’t you, Smartypants? Welcome to the club.
Theme three is something about you, and about the story you tell about yourself.
This is my personal blog. I get to use it for note-taking and musing out loud.
Everything else is yours.