Baby Bean is Growing

 BabyFruit Ticker

Monday, September 08, 2008

Ambient Awareness and Social Networking

This article in the New York Times Magazine is a fascinating look at a particular kind of social networking that provides realtime updates about the minutiae of our lives. Services like Facebook and Twitter provide an opportunity for users to update friends on their "status" at any time of day with brief one or two-line descriptions of what they're doing.
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 bother to 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.
The article also dives into the question of whether following or "friending" people on these sorts of sites truly constitutes a social relationship. Can I be friends with someone I've never physically met?
As I interviewed some of the most aggressively social people online — people who follow hundreds or even thousands of others — it became clear that the picture was a little more complex than this question would suggest. Many maintained that their circle of true intimates, their very close friends and family, had not become bigger. […]
But where their sociality had truly exploded was in their “weak ties” — loose acquaintances, people they knew less well. It might be someone they met at a conference, or someone from high school who recently “friended” them on Facebook, or somebody from last year’s holiday party. In their pre-Internet lives, these sorts of acquaintances would have quickly faded from their attention. But when one of these far-flung people suddenly posts a personal note to your feed, it is essentially a reminder that they exist.
And, according to the author, this social network of "weak ties" is incredibly powerful. I have a friend online — who, incidentally, I have only met once in person — who calls this, "the wisdom of the internets." She has a blog with a large (3,000+) following of avid readers. If she has a problem or a question, her cadre of readers is usually the first place she turns for advice.

This may seem like a strange new world to some, but for others, it's just how life is. Think about a generation younger than us who have never lived in a world without Facebook! The article makes some interesting conclusions about that, from a socialogical prospective as well.

The status update is becoming a literary genre, an answer to the dictum to "know thyself." It can even be a sort of zen reflection on life.

"Indeed, the question that floats eternally at the top of Twitter’s Web site — “What are you doing?” — can come to seem existentially freighted. What are you doing?"

1 comment:

C.S. Perry said...

I am leaving a comment.