Saturday, November 15, 2008

Geek adulation o' the day

Current prophetic flava: Marshall McLuhan.

While he is most known for the "medium is the message" tagline, I'm learning that this man indeed left us with a vast treasure-trove of advanced and prescient observations with respect to media.* Space and A.D.D. constraints prevent us from doing justice to this man's thinking, so for now, let's apply his sagacity to some media du jour -- namely:

Facebook...and yes, a Palinesque shout-out to the beloved Blogger you find yourself currently reading. These partially constitute "Web 2.0"..."social networking"...which is likely now just a part of our daily lives (even for us luddites), and are creating whole new ways of engaging and interacting.

Of course, this is not news. That is, until you realize just how significantly the protocols and nuances of our communication are changing because of these new media:
  1. The development of what some social scientists have termed “ambient awareness" which is "very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye"...only digitally so via "pokes", news feeds and posts.
  2. The realization that this sort of micro-broadcasting -- like other forms of free speech -- will create conflicts. Even the idealistically liberterian founders of Facebook were confronted with that this week.
And so what?

So when I post something on Facebook, it gets "fed" - or pushed - to many many people who may or may not be up for seeing what I have to share (see video clip at the bottom of this post for a comedic but accurate portrayal of just how special "Facebook friendships" are :-). But, on the other hand, if you choose to "come" to this blog, that is more of a "pull" than a "push" kind of thing. Subtle? Makes all the difference. This became all too clear this election season, when people posted news articles, clips, videos, etc. that took ambient awareness to all sorts of levels because they were prolifically fed on "friends'" feeds with just one click.

But enough of my bumbling: I'd rather defer to my new flava Marshall, who used 4 questions ("the tetrad") to evaluate in a more lucid and structured way what the implications are of such media innovations. They follow here; my suggestion would be to fill in the blanks as you see them with respect to our current "Web 2.0" platforms....with a particular emphasis on #4:
  1. "What does it (the medium or technology) extend?" In the case of a car it would be the foot, in the case a phone it would be the voice.
  2. "What does it make obsolete?" Again, one might answer that the car makes walking obsolete, and the phone makes smoke signals and carrier pigeons unnecessary.
  3. "What is retrieved?" The sense of adventure or quest is retrieved with the car, and the sense of community returns with the spread of telephone service. One might consider the rise of the cross-country vacation that accompanied the spread of automobile ownership.
  4. "What does the technology reverse into if it is over-extended?" An over-extended automobile culture longs for the pedestrian lifestyle, and the over-extension of phone culture engenders a need for solitude.
* McLuhan predicted over 40 yrs ago that the world would be "connected" as a "Global Village"; analogous prophetic discoveries of late include Roubini for Tocqueville for Democracy...Mike Judge to America....

And the promised video clip: