Last month I finally got around to reading Smart Mobs, which is, admittedly a little late. Published in 2002, the book mostly covers ground that we’ve already surpassed, which is what makes it a great read. To read a then-future possibility, and recognize it as being a modern fact of life, is really startling. After reading, and thinking about what I’ve read, the book is really about trust (and networks of trust). You can see the foundations of Howard’s current work in this book as well – certainly his pillars of 21st Century Literacies are bubbling underneath the surface of some of Howard’s discoveries about social networking in a mobile culture. It would be really interesting to revisit these ideas now, although I’m sure Howard is already ten years into the future, and other people have picked up his mantle. Has trust changed because of the explosion of mobile media? Has community changed because of YouTube? What about the civility within communities? I suspect that they have.
So I haven’t written for a couple days, and I swore to myself that I would keep active on my blogs. It’s hard to balance writing content constantly and keeping it interesting , so I’ve backed off on my daily-ness in favour of quality. Amazing that after all these years (3 years blogging on another service, this blog over a year now, a year at Fear of Smell) that I still haven’t figured it out (the mix, I mean, not blogging).
Was interesting to see this post about the future from The Working Guy at Yahoo (and a similar one by the boob who wrote about how people are getting dumber), who contends that kids who use high-tech social media are lost in face-to-face relationships. Well, he hedges his bet with saying “may be lost…” but it’s the same scare tactic from media. Your kids are going to be turned into mindless zombies incapable of any emotion or thought, or will be unable to function in the “real world”. What’s really interesting is that the notion at the end of the Working Guy article where the author states that the time it takes to study this stuff is too long for the published results to be relevant. Really? Guess you should tell that to the McArthur Foundation or perhaps the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Instead of scare-mongering, perhaps the inverse is what we should be looking at? Instead of social zombies, ready to be strafed like some Resident Evil game, we should look at what is being enhanced.
Another line in the article got my attention (and at 8:30 AM, that’s a bit of a feat) was the tie-in to work environments. Well, again, instead of the negative side, maybe this is a push to create a community of telecommuters. Lots of people have been pushing this idea, and while I’m not in favour of having my work with me all the time, there are tangible benefits environmentally and economically. The continuous partial attention is something that work has forced on us anyways, as more work gets put on less workers, something has to give. Also, the fact that work has become less of a defining role on who we are as an entity, another benefit of social media, in my opinion, will give less importance to work as a whole. Never mind that many workers feel undervalued in their jobs and at the end of every pay period.
I’m also seeing a lot of mainstream media talking about this continuous partial attention and I think this Social Media boom is in for a bust soon. We are becoming saturated with social media, ways to connect, and people are becoming more and more selective with which products they choose to use because they are feeling this pressure. It seems that people are paying attention to is based on the network that their connections are connected to. Sure, that’s a fairly simple observation to make, but the deeper meaning is that new and innovative products, like Twitter say, have to provide something new and tangibly innovative to users or it’s going to struggle. I think a lot of the skepticism around Twitter is because it doesn’t do anything new, except truncate context and provide more immediate access to people. Truncating context, an interesting phenomenon sure, but may be not all that useful to the end user.
Howard Rheingold makes a good point (as he almost always does) in this video about attention and multitasking. Yes, I linked it, as I wonder about the context of embedded links (another post I’m sure). He states that everyone already multitasks and pays attention, more importantly though, we pay attention to what we think is important. That decision making process is a critical thinking process, and if we want people to pay attention, we have to give them an indisputable reason to do that.
So where does that leave us?