Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Close for Comfort

In this weekend's New York Times, technology writer Clive Thompson weighs in on the "Brave New World of Digital Intimacy" from what his editors call "the effects of News Feed, Twitter and other forms of incessant online contact." As usual with a Thompson piece, the reporter makes sure to interview key researchers in the field, such as danah boyd and Mimi Ito and introduces a wider public to some of the jargon of gaming and Internet research. For example, he points to what social scientists call the role of "ambient awareness" and to the proliferation of "weak ties" as key features of this membership economy.

Thompson also notes even-handedly that many of the characteristics of this lifestyle can have both positive and negative consequences. He describes a woman who has decided to "outsource my entire life" so that she is able to rely constantly on advice being dispensed by her Twitter cohorts about everything from purchasing items over fifty dollars to choosing her providers of professional services in a minute-to-minute realization of what Pierre Lévy once dubbed the principle of "collective intelligence." He also points out the flip side of never losing touch with anyone in that one never entirely escapes adolescence or exits completely from relationships with exes or gets away from one's gossipy small town.

To set the scene, Thompson begins with the history of Facebook's introduction of a feed that provided short bursts of information for passive reception as a key milestone in the move toward Twitterization. In "Naked in the Nonopticon," Siva Vaidhyanathan tells a somewhat different version of the story of the Facebook news feed about the status of friends, one which emphasizes user consciousness of reputation management rather than privacy.

Thanks to Vivian Folkenflik, who noticed the references to 18th century social life, for the link.

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Blogger Lupton said...

I read this piece too (also thanks to Vivian Folkenflik). It helped me understand the constant texting now being pursued by my eleven-year old. I think I may use email in a much more limited but parallel way -- it creates a kind of continual white noise of information (the election, sales, African lotteries, departmental events, student complaints, you name it). I rail against email, but it also keeps me warm.

5:59 AM  

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