Monday, September 8, 2008

Ambient Intimacy is the New Collective Intelligence

I ran across this puff piece in the Sunday, September 7 edition of the NY Times promoting Facebook and Twitter. It really helped me improve my understanding of the micro-blogging, social networking revolution.

Like many people born before the age of the personal computer, I was having a hard time understanding why the new prosumer generation have no problem uploading every single intimate detail of their lives into these social networking sites. Apparently, mankind had evolved past whatever needs that the first, third, forth, fifth, ninth, and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution were trying to protect.

Well, I was wrong again. It was while attending the Start Conference that I learned that Twitter's main audience was closer to my age than my children's.

The NY Times article called it ambient intimacy and featured quotes, both expert and anecdotal, linking this phenomena to another upwardly trending phenomena known as collective intelligence.

Having lots of low commitment, casual acquaintances is important for your social development. But there is an upper limit on just how many of these relationships you can have by shear virtue of the fact that there are only so many hours in a day and you have to spend time traveling to each of these contacts and arranging a common time for both parties to meet. That was before the web which reduced the personal costs of time and distance to near nothing. Now, with social networking web applications such as Facebook and Twitter, you can maintain a much larger number of casual acquaintances than before. I have seen the future of human evolution and it is virtual.

Prosumers do use facebook in lieu of personal contact, especially if there is conflict to avoid. Gone forever is the "Dear John" letter. You are much more likely to know that you have been ditched by your girl/boyfriend by seeing pictures of them dating their new paramour in their facebook photo album.

That NY Times article also brought up the notion that these web apps solved a basic human need that was not getting met in urban environments. "This is the ultimate effect of the new awareness: It brings back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business."

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