Posts Tagged ‘Louis Gray’

Dear “tech elites” We Need You to Continue Navel-Gazing

June 3, 2008

Updated: Original title misspelled “navel” as “naval” leading some to wonder why I thought they needed to keep their eyes fixed on the high seas. I’m still laughing with at myself for that one…

Alexander van Elsas recently posted his navel-gazing induced thoughts on why he believes many of us are attracted to FriendFeeds “always on” conversation stream and, more importantly, why many of those reasons are built on faulty foundations. In Alexander’s mind many of the discussions in FriendFeed regarding “noise” levels, the need for filtering and social media’s ability to bring “enlightenment and salvation” to the masses are the myopic considerations of a community who has forgotten that there is a larger, much different world of people around them who live their lives in much different ways.

While I would agree that the world at-large is not spending a nanosecond trying to figure out how they could share and access an unlimited stream of information anytime, anywhere, I humbly submit for consideration the idea that Alexander and others immersed in social media with similar opinions just might be falling prey to the very thing that causes them to diminish the importance of the conversations currently underway.

What I don’t think many of the tech and social media types understand – from Scoble and Arrington to individuals like myself who are little more than observers to the madness – is that they are all, right now, in every conversation they have, helping to shape the philosophical and practical applications of these services for the world at large.

I recently added one of Twitter’s luminaries to my LinkedIn account. After scanning her contacts I wrote to her laughing at the fact that at NO point did our contacts intersect.

The fact that I am not a techie-type or social media insider is the very reason I began to emerge myself in the worlds of Twitter and FriendFeed. It is also the reason that I view and filter what is currently happening from atop a somewhat detached perch.

One thing that has become abundantly clear to me is that the bulk of FriendFeed’s current user base are an amalgamation of uber-early adopters, tech vanguards and other PR and marketing types who seek to offer their clients unprecedented knowledge and analysis of new developments in social media. Oh, that and navel gazing is the order of the day in social media land.

Now, navel-gazing could easily be construed as a pejorative so allow me to clarify. In a previous post I posited that classical philosophers would have loved the forums for idea exchange that services like Twitter and FriendFeed create – that was a misstatement on my part. I realized this after another FriendFeed user (Louis Gray natch!) shared the story and one of the comments said that I should better illuminate the connections between each philosophers ideas and Twitter and FriendFeed. What I should have said is that the followers of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates would have loved these services.

On one hand social media services are merely an extension of a movement that has spanned all of time, driven by nothing less than human nature itself. On the other hand these services are so immensely different from anything we are used to that they are completely disrupting virtually every aspect of our lives.

The Historical Drive for the Diffusion of Information

I am not a historian but as I look back over time I see a consistent pattern of the development of tools to diffuse information faster and more efficiently. The innovations seem to be borne of the same innate human desire to share information.

I touched on this a little in the Plato post but each new technology has been developed with the specific intention of broadening the reach of information. From the creation of written language, to the development of ink and parchment, to the printing press, the moveable-type printing press, the telephone, the radio, the television, mobile phones and finally the internet humans have never stopped looking for new ways to broaden the reach of information.

Today’s technologies – call them social media, web2.0, whatever you want – are not only a natural extension of what appears to be a prime human directive but an exponential increase that eclipses all previous attempts because as amazing as all of these previous methods of communication have been they have largely lacked one thing: the ability to facilitate instantaneous mass interaction.

Disruption on a Massive Scale

As I stated before I agree with Alexander’s assertion that the world at large is largely unaware (even uninterested) of applications like FriendFeed. The development and adoption of the mobile phone (and subsequently mobile devices providing email and web service) was jarring enough. “I have a phone at home, I even have an answering machine, why the hell would I need to be able to talk to anyone, anywhere at anytime?” was a common refrain when mobile phones first came out. Try living without one today. (Note: We are all aware that there are still millions of people who, by choice, or due to economic restraints, still don’t use mobile phones. It would be impossible to discuss any of these new technologies without focusing on how they relate directly to the segments of the world’s population that can and do use these kinds of technologies)

In much the same way individuals look at something like FriendFeed and think “I have email, I even have a Delicious account, why would I need to be able to instantly share information or interact with others?” This is the question that the “tech elite,” as Alexander calls them, are debating day in and day out. Whether they know it or not their points and conclusions will continue to shape the ways in which these technologies are eventually presented to and adopted by the public.

I was recently describing why applications like FriendFeed are so important to our society to a skeptical friend who happens to be an attorney. I asked him to name the individual he believed to be the preeminent legal authority alive today. I then asked him if he had a relationship with that individual that allowed him to shadow this great thinker for an entire year, not only seeing what he read but hearing his thoughts about the things he had just read – what he agreed with, where the author was wrong, etc – if he thought that he would be a better attorney because of it. My friend’s response was obvious: “of course.”

That to me is the power of these new technologies.

In my opinion services like FriendFeed and Twitter are only the tip of the iceberg. Their existence reshapes the way we function and communicate and in turn will give rise to the cross-application of the core concepts of these applications to other areas of communication.

I was driving home the other day and listening to my ipod – a song came on and I instinctively reached for a button so I could immediately share the fact that I loved this song with my social network. It wasn’t there.

Later I was watching a fascinating documentary on our nation’s complete history of nuclear weapon testing. Again I instinctively grabbed the remote to send the show to friends I knew would enjoy it. It wasn’t there. I also found myself wanting to be able to interact with others on-screen through my tv, to look up more details on the web and share them, to engage in discussions about what I was seeing. Those buttons weren’t there either.

But they could be and they will.

The services that some of us are using to view and comment on a constant stream of information from a constantly expanding social network is unlike just about anything we have ever experienced. Although it utilizes the same web technologies it is such a drastic departure from the web capabilities we are used to that it makes the web in its previous form seem like a stone tablet with pictures. As a result it is going to take the public a while before they can wrap their heads around something that, once again, completely changes the way in which they interact and communicate. The conversations currently taking place on FriedFeed and elsewhere will be one of the largest contributors to whatever form these applications finally take to facilitate mass adoption so navel-gaze on dear tech-elite.