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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

commucations theory

I recently read this article by William Deresiewicz on the history of friendship, and how social networking is changing the definition. I guess its about ideas from one area of technology, development coming into another. In this case, communications theory is being applied to human interaction. So we have nodes that are sending messages to other nodes through channels. Those channels have various properties, such as (?) latency and bandwidth. Thus, we can communicate with each other over the phone, through email, through Facebook, Twitter, Skype and other messaging services. Now, from our perspective, we are living our lives, and these are modes of communicating with others. From the system designer's perspective, we are nodes trying to communicate with each other. Face to face contact through light and sound that travel through the air becomes another channel. It is prized for its "high bandwidth".

Like each such system, the difficult part from a human perspective is that one is put on the defensive. One may be required to put ones values into this new language in order to defend them. I was complaining about Facebook recently and how many of your actions become publicly available. The response of the person I was speaking to was "don't you know about privacy settings?" There was a dismissive attitude to this. It was my job to understand the way in which Facebook had designed the system, and to address my concerns within that system. Rather than keeping things as they are, Facebook allowed more information to be shared publicly than was previously being done, and then put the burden on the user to figure out its system to reinstate those values. Its a similar situation with environmental concerns and economics. Within the domain of economics, those who don't think that species should be wiped out, or forests destroyed, or rivers polluted must phrase these goods within the language of economics.

Let me add one more point. In his article Deresiewicz discusses a Facebook friend who tells everyone that they are at Central park, and Deresiewicz asks why this person felt the need to share this. The thing about these new technologies is that they make this sharing just incredibly easy. The amount of effort to share such a thought is minimal. So, if in the end, one decides that such sharing is actually detrimental to one's relationships, then one must see these technologies as rather dangerous. Or, at least, something that requires a new kind of thought and understanding. A new kind of ledge one may fall off if one isn't careful. The new tools encourage us to externalize our internal worlds. This has much potential, and can improve self expression. But one can also give away important things, and not get much back in return. So, I note the dangers. And hopefully use this as a reminder to those developing this technology to use humility and don't expect everyone to fit into your system.

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