Brain Belches and Sentience

Somewhere this past year, I effectively traded blogging for brain belches.  Blog posts gave way to tweets, FB status updates and foursquare check-ins. "@"replies and retweets replaced blog comments as my virtual crack.

I'm not proud of it, and I will  rectify that this year (resolution #3, just after #2's "ripped abs")

In Katie Hafner's NYT piece "Driven to Distraction, Some Unfriend Facebook" (a piece dealing with kids attempts to self-regulate their Facebook addictions) she quotes Michael Diamonti, head of school at SF University High School:

"[I support] these kids recognizing that they need to exercise some control over their use of Facebook, that not only is it tremendously time-consuming but perhaps not all that fulfilling."

Hafner goes on to quote Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, who writes of an 18 year old male who quit FB while working on his college application:

"Facebook wasn't merely a distraction, but it was really confusing him about who he was."

Jonathan Harris, in his recent piece on World Building, writes

"Our online tools do a great job at breadth (hundreds of friends,
thousands of tweets), but a bad job at depth. We live increasingly
superficial lives, reducing our relationships to caricatures and our
personalities to billboards, as we speed along at 1,000 miles an hour.

We trade self-reflection for busyness, gorging ourselves on it and
drowning in it, without recognizing the violence of that busyness,
which we perpetrate against ourselves and at our peril."

There is something beautiful, terrifying and powerful about the rise of ambient intimacy, and our willing adoption of the latest and greatest tools to feed it.  We feed it with our hearts and souls like a confessional booth after a Las Vegas bender, but occasionally forget that every wry observation and catty tweet is now searchable, indexable and forever. 

But seeing is not knowing.  Telling alone does not create understanding. And the fact I can't actually deal with the immediacy of a restaurant until I've "checked in" in pursuit of my "Crunked' badge is…well, a little sad.

Sad, but I believe it will evolve into something beautiful.  This stuff would not survive, we would not be obsessed by it, if it did not meet a fundamental human need.  Our job is to understand that need and work to meet it with technology that enhances our humanity, and deepens our connections, rather than reduces our rich world of experience to 140 character bleats.

But it does make you think – children learn interaction by observing our emotional states.  How much of our hearts and souls can we pour into the technosphere before it develops its own api to tap our raw data, and begin to react?

It feels inevitable that a status update will someday generate a reaction – "feeling blue" may generate a skype call from an unknown (but somehow familiar soothing) voice, suggesting you "look on the bright side – you've got that Mexico trip coming up!  You'll be tan and happy, and you'll probably hook up!" – and when the line goes dead, you'll feel great, and maybe slightly, momentarily unsettled.  But you shouldn't be – you put the trip into dopplr, booked it through Expedia, and you've got a profile that matches someone else who did the same (and is single)…weather.com predicts sun for the 10-day forecast, and the tweets you posted from Tulum the last time were, algorithmically speaking, the happiest of your 8,956 posts. 

You can't miss!