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  • mono 7:43 pm on April 22, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Beauty, , , , , , Isolation, , , , microblogging, Mobile phone, Social Hybrid, , , Society, , Telecommunication, ,   

    Deepening Web Communication (Fragments) 

    Steve Rhodes

    Communications theorist Lee Thayer once wrote, “We ‘dilute’ the world by having an idea of it; and the intent of our words is, more often than not, to eliminate the world as resistance (Thayer 190).” As languaging creatures, our comprehension of the world is at once in direct contact with it (with certain spatial areas, horizons, surfaces, humans) and at the same time a part from it via language, creative expression, technology and so so on. That is to say, our ways of grasping the world is usually, most of the time, extending beyond the immediate here-and-now concreteness of reality, projecting ourselves onto things and others. Even when we are engaged in the concrete and ever-flowing “now,” we almost without control cover it over and lose what it could be with our self-talk or with symbolic complexes about how it should be. In the above quotation Thayer is calling us to think about the ways in which we understand our worlds, the ways in which we conceptually apprehend the concrete (via language) and how, perhaps, our talking serves the purpose of watering down the absolute harshness of the physical world.


    To use one example, in my current life situation I interact with computers everyday at home and at work. Just this evening, standing outside, I opened up my mobile phone, connected to the Web and checked my email. To some extent, the sense of aloneness, of isolation is swallowed up by the thought of being connected to a larger non-physical network of others. Moreover, for some of us, how much have we come to completely rely on Web communication for a large amount of the “real” communication that we crave, that we fail to engage while at work or even with friends? The temptation of connect may be seen as the temptation to substitute the “real” world for a virtual one, but I don’t think that things are this easy. Sure, it is nice to partake in micro-blogging or facebook updates, in order to keep relevant others “updated,” but what happens when one steps away from all of it? Moreover, how have our conversations changed…do we converse in 140 characters or less, I wonder?

    I think that for those of us that engage in various forms of social media, the spreading out and fragmenting of ourselves, while creating small pockets of self-identity and self-representation have the consequences of widening the sense of isolation instead of eliminating it. Spreading oneself across the social media spectrum for research purposes or curiosity may be beneficial if put to good use, but even then, too much talk about nothing, too much reliance on Web communication creates a false sense of togetherness. No matter what, the computer still sits on the table, in the room, in the house, in the city, etc…The objectness of the computer disappears while we are engaged with it.

    The Deep

    In the same essay as the above mentioned quotation, Thayer writes, “What has happened is that we have come to mistake our reach for our grasp. With the modernization of consciousness has come belief that information is a reasonable substitute for knowledge, and that knowledge, rationally accumulated, is a reasonable substitute for wisdom (Thayer 183).” Too much self-fragmentation into the voids of social media may serve to satisfy a temporary hunger, a quick fix on news, technological advances and so on, but what is happening in the accumulation of quick fix knowledge? It seems to me that the self that consists of a diet of aggregated feeds, comes to accumulate more information than necessary and, as a result, not really use that accumulated knowledge. Reaching too far and pulling everything in is tempting, but wasteful and shallow. When I say “shallow,” I mean quickly reading something for the purpose of simply taking it in without making it a part of oneself, without spending time with it and allowing it to work its magick on you. Reading an aggregated feed is much different than reading a book just as “tweeting” on Twitter is much different than engaging in a conversation while sharing a bottle of wine. The depth of communication is at stake in both examples.


    If ours is a situation in which we language the world, in which the world becomes the way it is talked about and made sense, then what are some ways that we can strive to create and enact the most beautiful possible world? Moreover, if ours is a technological world, how can we deepen our communicative grasp through the social networks which we use? Finally, if ours is a fragmented world, what are some ways that we can stitch some vital fragments back together, ways in which we can come to deepen and enrich our human lives through the technological? Perhaps, these too, are some of my hopes for Web 3.0

    *The two quotations were taken from the essay “Communication: Reach vs. Grasp,” which is in Lee Thayer’s book “Pieces: Toward a Revisioning of Communication/Life.”

    Photo by Steve Rhodes (CC)

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  • mono 11:31 pm on April 4, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Brainstorm, , , , , Online Communities, Social Hybrid, , , Social Networking Analysis, , Think Tank, Tower of Babel, , Twitters, ,   

    Web 3.0: Social Hybrid 


    Today, I read the following article which discusses speculations regarding Web 3.0 and asks the question, “What would you like Web 3.0 to be?” The article is from Soshable and can be read here: Soshable: Web 3.0

    Webster defines “hybrid” in the following way:

    1: an offspring of two animals or plants of different races, breeds, varieties, species, or genera
    2: a person whose background is a blend of two diverse cultures or traditions
    3 a: something heterogeneous in origin or composition : composite b: something (as a power plant, vehicle, or electronic circuit) that has two different types of components performing essentially the same function

    The idea of two different species of websites merging together interests me very much, but beyond this I am weary about centralization, worried about the flow covering over my discovery of potential useful information. After having read about FriendFeed from several social media blogs, I created my account and began “sharing.” What immediately struck me was the absolute minimalism of one’s profile page, the strict focus on the data-stream as opposed to the development of one’s self through the use of symbols (as greatly seen on MySpace). However, without any “friends” on FriendFeed to keep track of, I visited the “Everyone” page to observe the conversational flow. What immediately stuck out was the frequent Twitter feeds that wouldn’t quit and proved quite distracting, until I realized that I was essentially merely an observer. After sharing a link, I watched as it quickly vanished into the nether world, just another blip from someone on the other side of the world. This kind of fast-moving meaningless glimpse at the snippets of conversations, makes me realize the necessity of adding “friends” to the Friendfeed site. Ah, I have digressed. Where was I? Ah yes, Social Hybridity.

    Under a Black Sky, Disconnected

    As I was walking outside this evening under the black Japan sky amidst the industrial bleakness of the suburbs, I began to really think what feature I would like to see emerge in Web 3.0. I began thinking about the idea of more online literature, downloadable books perhaps merging with a literary networking site, but then I realized that I am still very much attached to a real book, the feeling of turning the pages, savoring the textures of the book…

    Returning to the Tower of Babel

    Then, I had a thought. What is it that would make interacting with others easier? What am I missing in the chatter that comes from languages that I have never studied and do not understand? The separation of tongues was also very evident on the “FriendFeed” “everyone” viewing experience. I saw random Twitters and blog posts in foreign languages appear and, upon refreshing the page, washed away. What may be interesting, although it is perhaps quite far-fetched, would be a social networking site with emphasis on international linguistic diversity and some kind of function which would translate the other’s language into the language of my choice and vice versa. Of course, this is far-fetched in that even with advanced online translators, we all know that the task of translating from one language to another loses something, there is something that the computerized translation software cannot grasp and cannot adequately express. The slang, the nuance, sarcasm and word-play tend to get lost when filtered through the computerized translator. In my dream space, this would be realizable. That is, I would like to see a site with emphasis on translatability, on being able to see a page in Chinese appear in English with 99% of its natural flare in tact. Moreover, through a chat function, my words would be instantly translated to the other and the other’s to me, in our mother tongue. Perhaps, this would be one of my hopes for social hybridity.

    However, there is one obvious consequence of this idea of linguistic hybridity that comes to mind and that is a decline in the challenge to learn a language. Therefore, perhaps the site could also feature a rich translation tool that allows one to see just how words are being translated, online language lessons and the history of the development of the language (a kind of built-in Wiki). Of course, the site could also host various podcasts, international vlogs, downloadable educational content and the like. Eduction + Interaction.

    Think Tank Create Tank

    Another idea that comes to mind is a space that allows those wishing to collaborate on a project, brainstorm ideas visually and textually, working together to create some kind of multimedia project across the platform of a social networking site. For example, three musicians existing in three different countries come together through the site and are able to upload music files to their perhaps “private” group space online (on the SNS site), the site also provides a voice chat option/web cam option and spaces for sketching ideas visually and taking notes. In this way, the musicians at their own pace can work to collaborate on a piece of music, editing it in their own countries at the own homes, but uploading it and editing it through the social networking site itself. One may visualize this as a kind of think tank social networking site for professionals to meet, network and work together. Of course, not only musicians but video artists, online poets, fashion designers, architects, urban planners and virtual reality designers as well could use this page.

    I realize that both of the ideas presented here are macro in scope devoid of any technical way of making these ideas happen, but they are just to get the juices flowing, so to speak. Social hybridity, social hybridity, social hybridity…


    So now I pass it on to you….what are your hopes for Web 3.0 and what problems would you like see solved? The Media Ecologist Neil Postman asked the question, “What problem is this new technology the solution?” I am curious as to what your online “problems” are and how new socially minded applications could help solve them?

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