September 6, 2008

Brave New World of Digital Intimacy

07awareness-600.jpg Clive Thompson's article for The New York Times titled "Brave New World of Digital Intimacy" is a must read.

Thompson describes the experience of using Facebook and Twitter and explores several theories about the impact of continuous sharing of daily details, the incessant online contact - what scientist are calling “ambient awareness.

"... Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. The ambient information becomes like “a type of E.S.P.,” as Haley, a 39-year-old documentation specialist for a software firm who lives in Seattle described it to me, an invisible dimension floating over everyday life"

... The ultimate effect of the new awareness brings back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business.

... Psychologists and sociologists spent years wondering how humanity would adjust to the anonymity of life in the city, the wrenching upheavals of mobile immigrant labor — a world of lonely people ripped from their social ties. We now have precisely the opposite problem. Indeed, our modern awareness tools reverse the original conceit of the Internet. When cyberspace came along in the early ’90s, it was celebrated as a place where you could reinvent your identity — become someone new.

“If anything, it’s identity-constraining now,” Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County told me. >“You can’t play with your identity if your audience is always checking up on you."

[via Smart Mobs]

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