Thursday, September 13, 2012

Communication Concerns (Article): "Shifting Forces in (Digital) Culture"

Over the past 3-4 years, I have had several conversations about social communication skeptics and naysayers as well as concerned advocates of social media about the inherent costs of speeding up and compressing communication. The worry is, of course, that we will become stupid, lose the ability to communicate deeply and authentically, and, in general, devolve as an intelligent species. Hell and hand-baskets.

These are actually legitimate concerns and I have never attempted to refute them. However, my response is the same today as what it was then: humans crave deep, meaningful interaction and will always fight for it. My point being that, as communication becomes quicker and more shallow, we will feel the deprivation, like we would a lack of oxygen, and find new ways to connect. Those very concerns are evidence of that. We won't lose the ability to communicate authentically and deeply because we want to communicate authentically and deeply. Maybe that's an overly idealistic or self-assuring attitude, but I think that the persistent concern over this issue affirms my argument. We haven't given up the ghost yet.

That is to say: continue to be concerned, continue look for solutions, but don't be of the mindset that progress and change always equal loss, we will just continue make adjustments as we go along.

This article is a piece of the evidence of this fight against what Jonathan Harris (an incredibly talented and artist, storyteller and speaker) designates compressed, disposable, curated, self-promoting communication. We are remarkably adaptive creatures: when something goes awry, we naturally fight to re-balance our environment, even though it may be in an awkward or inelegant manner. 

Listen to the talk anything by Harris, he's phenomenal.

Shifting Forces in (Digital) Culture:
Shifting_ForcesIn a recent talk at Creative Mornings, New York, Jonathan Harris said every promise we make has a cost associated with it. When it comes to communication and self-expression, the four forces that are shifting our culture are:
1. CompressionEven before the Internet, we started
using tools that made our communication shorter and faster. Now we're at an interesting point where we tweet. We’ll get to a point where we’ve reached terminal velocity, maybe grunts.
2. DisposabilityWe get what we need, consume it, and throw it away. We're okay with the fact that what we put out there is consumed quickly and thrown away, even culture and information.
3. CurationHas by and large replaced creation as a
predominant mode of self-expression. Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, etc. made it very easy to assemble lists, put together boards, and ping things to use to express yourself. It’s a bit like walking into someone's apartment and judging them as a person by the stuff they have hanging on the walls instead of speaking with them.
4. Self-promotionWe’re all living our lives as advertisements now. We assemble these online personas through our Facebook profiles and our online Web sites. And it’s like this sort of big species-level pissing contest where everyone is trying to see how
awesome they can seem to the people they meet online.

For these forces, Harris was interested in offering some counter forces: deepening to compression, timelessness to disposability, increasing the amount of creation, and self-reflection.

We live in an age where there is a very small number of people who are mainly guys, mainly between 22-35, mainly living in San Francisco, New York maybe a little in London and Berlin. And these people are having a really big effect on the behavior of hundreds of millions of humans through the software they design and introduce into the world.

When you do that, it's important to understand how technology functions.
All technology extends a human functions, a piece that is already in us. What is the urge we’re extending or exaggerating through software?

Harris classifies tech companies mainly in two buckets: healers and dealers.
  • The healers are marketplaces that connect people –- Kickstarter connects creators to backers, Etsy buyers to sellers, AirBnB travelers
  • to hosts. They solve a problem quickly.
  • The dealers aim to harness attention to either sell ads, or leverage the data. They aim to build attention economies.
However, attention is a finite resource, and data in the present form gives you the ability to confirm things you already know. It’s pretty superficial.
[hat tip SwissMiss]
Valeria is an experienced listener. She is also frequent speaker at
conferences and companies on a variety of topics. To book her for a
speaking engagement click here.

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