Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The New Networked Reality

Forgive me for a brief bit of nostalgia. I used to have time. Time to think, time to read and yes, time to get bored. The phone was a black box hanging on the kitchen wall. There was a radio in the corner of the living room and a television in front of the big chair. Next to the chair was a table with magazines and a pile of books.

It was a new modern world and we were able to access information at a reasonably fast pace from:

  • The newspaper which arrived once or twice daily (depending on how many you read).
  • The radio, if you had it playing, would give you the news every hour.
  • The television had regular newscasts on each of the 3 channels.
  • Magazines which only arrived monthly but gave you the indepth information you wanted on topics of the day.
  • Meetings which were held at work and sometimes in the community to share information and work out solutions to common problems.

I would sit down in that comfortable chair and automatically pick up a book. The television or radio would be background accompaniment unless something really interesting was happening.

The world has changed of course and it's exciting. It's also exhausting. I'm starting to worry that I've become a network storage device. A node on the internet - a small, inconsequential node, but a fixed part of the network nevertheless.


Actually reading a book involves planning and scheduling. I have to consider how I will "catch up" if I take time to do it.

It's my own fault, I recognize that. But the opportunities to learn and connect and enjoy are so bountiful that I have trouble setting my boundaries. I do have some though - oddly enough my cell phone is used for phone calls. That's all - phone calls. Anybody who knows me would never try to reach me with a text message. And nobody would expect me to answer the phone while I'm in the car or walking the dog. Only emergencies would make somebody dial my number at those times.

I don't "do" FaceBook or MySpace. I haven't visited Avatars United in months. I don't do online gaming (SL of course doesn't count). However, my information sources and social network ties are still way too numerous.

  • My television now has access to hundreds of channels and still I watch shows online from around the world.
  • I'm a news junkie who has dozens of online news sites bookmarked and I read them first thing every morning.
  • I have a blog which must be maintained and a network of blogs I read and try to follow on an ongoing basis.
  • Plurk.
  • Twitter.
  • Email.
  • Inworld IM's, group chat, meetings, workshops, and general conversations.
  • Forums (well, they're mostly for the amusement value).
  • Online virtual worlds where I either "live and work" (i.e., SecondLife) or visit as a tourist.
  • Online conferences and courses.
  • General research and knowledge activities (e.g., The TED Lectures)
I find myself always trying to catch up. In self defense, I limit the issues I'm prepared to get involved with - but I do try and keep up with developments.

If our great new world - virtual and physical - is this demanding of my limited cycles I can't imagine what it's like for people who try and do it all. So, I have a request of those technical geniuses out there - find a way to simplify things.

I'm pretty sure FaceBook and Google would each like to be the only pipeline anybody needed for their online lives. I'm not sure that's a good idea - I'd rather not have somebody else do it for me (Remember the early days of the internet when AOL would act as your carefully controlling window to the online world? Most of us went our own way for a reason.)

The virtual world offers possibilities for us to design our own pipelines - design our own network connections. I want you, the brains working on the big developments in cyberspace to give me the tools I need to design/build/create my own network. If I'm going to be a network storage device I want to have admin rights.

Max Headroom had fun being part of an online world - I want that too without always feeling like I'm playing catchup.

And oh yes, I also want time to read a book. :)

1 comment:

GoSpeed said...

One of the pitfalls of our information age many times we often quantify real people as a stream of data / information. I had an SL friend who had decided she had had enough of the information overload. In the same sentence she equated her online friendships to an RSS feed and that she needed to trim them down. It was pretty heartbreaking for me to compared to a stream of dull, flavorless text. I realized I wasn't real to her, but just an abstract flow of data.

In my RL job I am anchored in front of 8 screens and I am overwhelmed with feeds, chatrooms, web pages, and imagery. It's like drinking from the proverbial fire hose. But still somehow I do manage to see the humanity behind all the information. The day it doesn't bother me is they day I need to move on.

In SL none of you are abstract data. You're all very real to me even if your facade is imaginary or at odds with your real life selves. They day I see any of you as an object is the day I will have to walk away.