Monday, September 15, 2008

Digital Intimacy: Twitter, Facebook and ambient awareness

You've probably heard of Facebook, the social networking site.  And maybe Twitter, microblogging - small instant messages.

There's a fascinating analysis of these technological options, and their social impact, in the New York Times: Brave New World of Digital Intimacy, by Clive Thompson.

Why would you want to let your friends - close or distant or maybe only met on the net - know what your sandwich tastes like, or other minutiae of daily life, or equally, why know such details of their lives?

This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would botherto call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. The ambient information becomes like “a type of E.S.P.,” as Haley described it to me, an invisible dimension floating over everyday life.

And, in a world where we may seem to be more isolated:

This is the ultimate effect of the new awareness: It brings back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business. Young people at college are the ones to experience this most viscerally, because, with more than 90 percent of their peers using Facebook, it is especially difficult for them to opt out.

The article's conclusion:

Laura Fitton, the social-media consultant, argues that her constant status updating has made her “a happier person, a calmer person” because the process of, say, describing a horrid morning at work forces her to look at it objectively. “It drags you out of your own head,” she added. In an age of awareness, perhaps the person you see most clearly is yourself.

Whether or not you're twittering now or yet, it's an article worth reading.  If you're not on Facebook or another social networking site, the kids we teach surely are.


No comments: