Vail Daily column: Devices enhance social web
June 6, 2014
Paradigms shift whether we want them to or not. Once upon a time the social networking paradigm relied on visiting others in person and leaving a calling card if they happened to be unavailable to receive you. Then came the telephone, and it was considered a vile breach of privacy and offensive intrusion into our homes. We got over it, eventually embraced the new paradigm and phones were installed in every home and business. Resistance to new ideas is common throughout the history of communications.
While it's certainly true that ubiquitous social networking via fast and cheap Internet everywhere can seem a great distraction from traditional interpersonal relationships and simple conversation, that does not mean the new methods are somehow delusional. In fact, these new means of social interaction increase our contacts and communications exponentially, allowing us to reach more people than ever before possible in the history of humanity. For those with something of value to share, the benefits are immeasurable, as the world of ideas can now reach millions across the world in milliseconds. And the message is not a one-way communication, but as interactive as you will allow it to be. If the message is powerful, then it will attract correspondence and fuel the exchange of more ideas.
Yes, there's a lot of pointless and annoying garbage flooding the interwebz, but that's always been true of most forms of media, in everything from print to radio, television, movies, podcasts, email and other more conventional streaming content. Funny that … email is a form of social networking, one that's a few seconds slower and only communicates to a relatively small set of user-defined recipients, or often just one other person. Do those attributes somehow make email less offensive? Or is it the fault of fast and cheap Internet everywhere via smart phones that makes the offense so much more egregious? Without the advent of social networking apps, would email be just as annoying as today's popular social networking? Today, of course, we can do both, plus the world of information is also at our fingertips, making it easier than ever to call bulls*** on someone when they assert something you know is not so.
Is the real annoyance the fact that while social networkers are busily networking they're looking down at their mobile device while also supposedly conversing with people in their presence? Even when not using my own smart phone, I tend to scan the surroundings rather than look at the person talking to me. Some call that "situational awareness," and besides, I hear with my ears, not my eyes, and I'm a terrible lip-reader. Is that lack of constant eye contact the offensive act, or is it the divided attention? Speakers who expect and demand the full time and attention of their listeners, those they are talking to, need to realize that even without a smart phone their listeners are likely entertaining other thoughts. That must be an earth-shattering epiphany for some, I know, but for a listener to actually process what someone is saying and engage in the conversation requires independent thought, and if the conversation is stimulating at all, then it should prompt many thoughts in the listener, else what's the point?
The paradigm shift escalates as devices get smaller and faster and better and cheaper. Moore's Law may hiccup periodically, and although some are predicting its demise sometime in the early 2020s, other futurists predict that if Moore's Law remains on track a full-scale human brain simulation of 86 billion neurons will be achieved by 2023. Less than one decade from now.
New peripheral devices available today afford greater immersion into the "online experience" (itself a paradigm that continues to evolve). Smart phones and interconnected devices are now available in wearable form, albeit currently bulky and gaudy, but consider the current products prototypes, soon to be replaced by smaller and more fashionable or virtually invisible alternatives.
Those relatively small Bluetooth headsets that fit on one ear have become somewhat commonplace and acceptable, but they seem to have been a fad that's now fading. Now consider Google Glass and Samsung's reported competitor, Gear Glass — both are relatively bulky and gaudy headbands that provide a heads-up computer display with cameras and earphones, and respond to voice commands, allowing the user to engage in social networking and other Internet queries while "looking up," but somehow I doubt that will lessen the offense to the easily offended.
The current products are clearly visible to anyone in close proximity to the wearer, prompting some establishments to ban their use. Such bans will soon become moot as these devices shrink in size and become practically invisible with the help of new wonder materials like graphene.
Combine these devices with powerful and predictive Internet search engines such as Google, instantaneous voice recognition that detects and automatically issues search queries based on the current context of a conversation and presents the wearer a constant stream of relevant information. With facial and voice recognition apps you'd never again fail to put a name with a face, along with the names of their spouse, children, birthdays, business relationships, golf handicap, a complete curriculum vitae and more.
Imagine if you will, a split society of those who are connected to the world of information and those who are not, and the potential advantages/disadvantages, same as it ever was. You can poo poo it, you can choose to ignore it, but others will not, and the only way to prevent the paradigm from shifting is through government force — prohibitions — which only serve to place ourselves at the disadvantage, because the paradigm shift will still occur elsewhere.
Buddy Shipley lives in Edwards.