Social Networking – We’re missing the point.

Social networking as it stands is missing a very essential component – some type of social contract. Right now, there isn’t a good way in digital communication/interaction/networking to know whether someone got the message. Sure, you can see if they reply, ‘like’, ‘retweet’ or otherwise indicate they got it – and email has read receipts which call back in the background. Even at that, though, someone can open or glance at a message without actually reading or paying attention to it.

From real life, the allegory for Facebook is a huge dorm of people (gigantic, really). Everyone has a door into their room, and the door can have pictures, news articles, amusing comics, etc. as well as a white board where visitors can leave notes. In real life, you can tell when someone is there and generally see why. When someone looks at something and you’re there, you can comment back, open up a channel of communication, and actually interact. (“Oh yeah, that’s when I went to Costa Rica for J-term and we hiked in the Cloud Forest” or “you think that’s good, check this one out” –> pulls up xkcd for today).

Right now, our doors are all shut, and we have towels along the bottom so they’re soundproof. This means we only interact with the world when we step outside. When we do, everything happened in the past and it hits us all at once – more of a chore than fun experience. Everything’s tape delayed. We already have discovery (news feed, activity feed, messages, email notifications) but there’s no way to jump into someone’s stream as it happens.

Examples:

  • I see a few friends checking out the Spotify track I’m listening to and we start up a Turntable room
  • I see my friend’s pictures from the 5k, he notices I’m there and gloats about his time
  • I glance through a college classmate’s wedding photos and they strike up a conversation

Ultimately, there’s no way to hang a sign on your door indicating that you’re open for engagement and interested. Everyone dumps everything they can out on their door but then shuts it again without seeing what the response is. I’m not talking about a violation of privacy or anything like that – you can make it entirely optional on both sides. If you don’t want the spam of knowing when people are digesting your social timeline, that’s fine. If you’re snooping on someone’s page and don’t want to reveal yourself, you can hide your actions too. But I imagine most of the time people won’t care that so-and-so knows they’re there – and most of the time it will be a good thing.

Right now, we’re missing the point. We’re all linked up. Some of us are even talking – but the words are all surface-level and it could be so much better.

Stuff

Junk

We are built to accumulate and collect stuff.  We’re wired to want things and validate ourselves based on what we’ve got…car, house, gadgets, and so on.  As a tech person, I’ve built up the typical boxes of cables (Composite, USB, headphones, etc.), most of which I’ll never use.  It reaches a point where it starts to bog you down.  Living in a good-sized one-bedroom loft apartment after college, I shouldn’t have trouble finding room for my stuff, but it’s starting to build up.

There’s an important lesson to be learned from this: The more things you have, the more you have to maintain, and the more you have to keep track of.  It’s difficult to think of an iPod or a car as nuisances, but they can easily become just that.  The iPod starts acting up and you spend time fixing it, replacing it, buying add-ons for it and before long it starts bordering on more trouble than it’s worth.  The car needs maintenance, gas, washing, a place to park…

You can start to see how these things come with strings attached.  Life gets more complicated, and when life is complicated, there’s less time to sit back and enjoy it as is.  A cluttered home makes a cluttered mind.

I’m not advocating life without possessions, but we’ve got to identify when possessions turn from positive sustaining things into burdens.  One of the greatest things in life (in my humble opinion) can be sitting on the porch on a beautiful spring day at sunset – and there are no gadgets, toys or exciting things necessary to get the full value of this.

Stepping Back

I read a blog post here a few days ago outlining self-imposed ‘internet free zones’ where you choose to disconnect for the sake of focus and freedom from distraction. As I sit on the north shore of Lake Superior at Neys Provincial Park, utterly out of touch with the outside world, I am overwhelmed by the vitality of it all, and the energy of a simpler life. Unfortunately, life does not afford such a regular opportunity to get away.

As an option, though, what about implementing a ‘connectivity-free zone’ now and then to step back and consider the broad scope of a project, a relationship, an important decision, or life itself? Camping for a day, or even taking a day trip by bike without phone, iPod, email or so much as a newspaper might do the trick. Life these days is overwhelmed by the continuous flow of information.

The never-ending barrage is draining and we need ways to turn it off, recognizing and remembering that the world will be okay without us for awhile, and us without it.

When you’re dead in a few decades

Long Now Foundation 10000 year clock

 

These days, events on the order of a human lifetime are outside the scope of thought for this time and generation. The concept of seeing things in the context of a few years seems odd and even a year is difficult to approach. We in this world and time have accustomed ourselves to a life composed of moment to moment instantaneous experience. People follow one event to the next as if to blindly follow steps in the sequence without stepping back to consider the sequence itself.

This Fall found me working my way through Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, which is another fantastic success from an author who understands this message. He and a growing community of similarly minded thinkers have come together to contribute to the Long Now Foundation. The foundation describes its purpose thus:

The Long Now Foundation was established in 01996* to develop the Clock and Library projects, as well as to become the seed of a very long term cultural institution. The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide counterpoint to today’s “faster/cheaper” mind set and promote “slower/better” thinking. We hope to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.

The foundation aims to further its goal through seminars, essays and projects serving to redirect attention towards more significant and deserving ends. Check out some of the plans, discussion, and images of the 10,000 year clock and take a minute to think about some of the ideas behind it.

High gas prices are good for the US

Okay, before taking this the wrong way, hear me out.

For so long, gas prices in the US have been exceptionally low, kept down by government subsidies and protection of oil interests.  Check out this table comparing prices around the world.  We’ve been lucky to get along with such cheap fuel costs but when things get easy, people get lazy.  If it’s cheap to drive an hour to work every day, people have no reason to live closer, or invest in a bus or train route to fit the bill.  If it’s glamorous and profitable to push huge vehicles to consumers, there’s no incentive to develop efficient and sensible alternatives.

When times are easy, individuals and companies have no reason to invent and innovate and lead the world in developing new technologies.  We slip behind other countries because we’ve collectively forgotten what it means to strive desperately for the best.

High gas prices have forced us economically to do what we should have been doing on our own.  We’re facing the short-term shock that comes with a forced change in perspective.  Soon, though, the country will shift into gear and do what we do best.  The country should embrace this opportunity step it up and rediscover its place as a center of innovation and discovery.  I just hope we don’t forget the lesson when prices drop again.  SUV sales should never recover.

Hobbies

Anyone worth anything has a set of activities that are simply rewarding for no other reason than their inherent value. There isn’t a dependence on company, or context. There’s no need for credit or outcome. A hobby is the work of a satisfied soul, pursuing something that is clearly and simply enjoyable.

Mine include photography, writing, music (the listening of and the contribution to), crafts (building bookshelves, fixing a futon, making a longbow) cooking and reading, among others. So often I look at those around me and wonder what it is that makes them tick. What secretly gets their blood flowing…? Because it could not solely be their 9-5 job, or the essays they write, or the family to whom they go home at the end of the day. Politicians do not rely 100% on the extortion of good from their constituents. Even for them there must be something.

It’s sad how little these things come out. There is something truly good about these things that doesn’t depend on a meaning to life, but rather on the simple appreciation of those everyday aspects we would otherwise take for granted.

Affirmation Turned 180 Degrees

I’ve discovered about myself that I crave attention more than I’d generally be able to admit to myself. When I’m depressed, it generally has some basis in the fact that I believe myself to be uninteresting, unworthy of attention, or generally alone. These feelings stem from an innate belief that to be happy I must be worth liking, and to be worth liking I must be noticed as demonstrating skill, wit, intelligence or other beneficial traits. So, despite my desire to claim selflessness and a lack of dependence on trivial gains, here I am, superficial.

The thing that troubles me, though, is the lack of reason to this whole idea. I shouldn’t need anything more than a clear mind to experience happiness. Frankly, the most true and sincere joy I’ve felt, has come in the clarity after tossing away all thoughts of body or self and delving into experience.

I’m not sure when today, but for a few small moments, I was pondering this particular obstacle to happiness and it occurred to me that in times such as these when I fall into the trap of so desperately needing affirmation, there might be a better alternative. Maybe what I need to remember is that, given the time to think about it, there is no greater joy than at the thought of touching someone else in a powerful way.

I guess the lesson to myself is this: in times of self-doubt, loneliness and hardship, solace comes from the knowledge that I’ve given someone else the self-assurance they need to carry on in a difficult world. If I can’t come up with recent experiences fitting this description, then I have some work to do, and a clear and definite purpose to fulfill. And what could be more joyful than the knowledge of a clear and definite purpose.

Is anything safe? What online image are you giving?

Lifehacker features a pretty interesting list of ways to find information about anyone online. Anything from employment info, to social network connections, to press mentions, to phone numbers and addresses for an individual could be turned up with a quick search of these sites.

I see this as a good chance to check out my online image and to screen what others can see about me. Employers and contacts do check these kind of things to get a feel for what has done or what he or she is like. This is definitely something to take a look at.

  • Pipl – personal sites, social networks, press releases, et.
  • Zabasearch – phone numbers, addresses (often both unlisted and listed)
  • Wink – Many social networking sites, including Friendster, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, and Xanga
  • Zoominfo – employment history and job titles
  • Facebook – there are so many people on facebook.  This one goes without saying
  • Who is this Person Firefox Extension – brings up people search engines from the right-click menu within firefox when clicking on a person’s name
  • Google search tricks:

* Enclose the first and last name of the person you’re searching for in quotes when you enter it into the search box (like “John Smith”).
* Include other relevant words, like the person’s profession, employer, location, or screen name, too (like banker or Austin, Texas.)
* If the person you’re searching for is likely to appear on a particular web site–like a school–search only that site using the site:URL operator (like site:ucla.edu “John Smith”).
* To look up people by face, search for them on Google Images to get a quick visual–especially useful for people with common names, or to determine the gender of a name you never heard before.

Lifehacker: How to Track Anyone Down Online