W4, #7: FACEBOOK & “AMBIENT AWARENESS”

Disclaimer: If you’re short on time or do not even take a look at the blog until late Sunday night (in hopes of grabbing a “C” this week), skip this entry.  In fact, run from with it with all of your youthful passion.  Grab your iPod.  Find a happy space.  Open a bag of super-hot Cheetos.  IM some buddies.  And forget you ever saw this.  Caveat emptor, and all that intellectual blogging jazz.

Set-Up: My strange blog post title aside (until you figure out what it means — wink), this entire entry is all about Facebook.

[insert stunned adolescent expression here]

Yup…he went there.  Facebook.  Said it again.  Might say it a few more times, too.

So, this one is all about Facebook?

  • Or at least something kind of intriguing about what FB’s founder Mark Zuckerberg (and his team) has done to our modern social brains through a certain updating feature they’ve added to Facebook in the last 2 years (which has become quite well-received since allowing the masses to join the FB realm).
  • Or at least something that Facebook, Twitter (huh?) and a dozen other Internet-based ‘micro-blogging’/social media applications (huh, again?) like them that are re-wiring the way we relate to ourselves, our friends and our world.

What?

Did some teacher-dude just hint that we get to talk about Facebook…for a grade? And what is this Twitter thing?  I thought this was English class with dusty books and stuff?  We actually get credit for being FB experts?  Really?

Yes.  Sort of.  But I think you guessed that little catch-22.

Will Richardson — a mentor/buddy of mine who happens to be an author and one of the leading experts/speakers on the ‘future of learning” and “emerging educational technology’ in the world — grabbed my radar this afternoon.  While spending a little time on his education blog (note:  you might want to hang out there a bit and see if anything grabs your attention over time), I ran across a cool piece of writing of his entitled “Ambient Awareness” (see, I didn’t make my title up entirely — wink) which supposedly talked about how Facebook is re-wiring our brains. Along with this Twitter-thing, too.

And you just know I just had to follow his breadcrumbs and see where his rabbit hole took me.

Where it took me — besides to a cool part of my brain that likes to learn — was to a New York Times Magazine article entitled, “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy” (aka “I’m So Totally, Digitally Close to You”) by Clive Thompson.

That’s where I found the following lovely gems I just had to share with all y’all:

“Having an audience can make the self-reflection even more acute, since, as my interviewees noted, they’re trying to describe their activities in a way that is not only accurate but also interesting to others: the status update as a literary form.”

…and…

“Yet it is also why it can be extremely hard to understand the phenomenon until you’ve experienced it. Merely looking at a stranger’s Twitter or Facebook feed isn’t interesting, because it seems like blather. Follow it for a day, though, and it begins to feel like a short story; follow it for a month, and it’s a novel.”

..and…

“Boyd sighed. ‘They can observe you, but it’s not the same as knowing you.'”

…and…

“Yet Ahan knows that she cannot simply walk away from her online life, because the people she knows online won’t stop talking about her, or posting unflattering photos. She needs to stay on Facebook just to monitor what’s being said about her. This is a common complaint I heard, particularly from people in their 20s who were in college when Facebook appeared and have never lived as adults without online awareness. For them, participation isn’t optional. If you don’t dive in, other people will define who you are. So you constantly stream your pictures, your thoughts, your relationship status and what you’re doing — right now! — if only to ensure the virtual version of you is accurate, or at least the one you want to present to the world.”

…and…

“’It’s just like living in a village, where it’s actually hard to lie because everybody knows the truth already,” Tufekci said. ‘The current generation is never unconnected. They’re never losing touch with their friends. So we’re going back to a more normal place, historically. If you look at human history, the idea that you would drift through life, going from new relation to new relation, that’s very new. It’s just the 20th century.’”

…and…

“Or, as Leisa Reichelt, a consultant in London who writes regularly about ambient tools, put it to me: ‘Can you imagine a Facebook for children in kindergarten, and they never lose touch with those kids for the rest of their lives? What’s that going to do to them?’”

Phew. Now that’s a brain-full.

Oh, and we haven’t even gotten to the ‘challenge’ yet, sportsfans!

Challenge:

  • Read the original New York Times Magazine article.
  • Say something utterly profound and eye-catching.  Not just in a cute, off-the-cuff, skimming sort of way.  Go deep.  Connect the article to your real life.  But don’t forget to really analyze the article.
  • If you’re really curious, do some hunting to see what Twitter is all about.
  • If you’re even more curious, spend some time with Will’s blog.  Heck, even subscribe to it.
  • If you’re even more curious squared, see if you can find (2 or more) unexpected literary allusions I made in this post.  (wink)
  • And if you’re really, really, really madly curious, maybe you can ask me to introduce you to the guy who started Facebook with Mark back at Harvard when they were just a few years older than you are now.  He has an interesting story or two about what it was like ‘back in the day’ and what ‘went wrong’ once it went public.

Length: Far more than 140 characters [insert laugh track here — LOL, ROFL], although that would be very meta of you.

Instead, let’s go with 7+ sentences (’cause I’m crazy that way).

Seems expected, although I suspect we’ll see a few students push way past this minimal requirement in a blink of an micro-blogging, IM’ing blink of an eye.

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2 responses to “W4, #7: FACEBOOK & “AMBIENT AWARENESS”

  1. The phrase “ambient awareness” is a fitting description of today’s plethora of web connections for people. It conveys the notion that so many people can observe you, know you in some sense, and yet they don’t really know you. To me, at least, that notion is somewhat unsettling but also comforting.

    It is comforting because it is the technological answer to the basic human need to connect with other human beings. Over the summer, I read a very interesting book called The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. In it, one of the protagonist lives in New York, and Krauss describes his loneliness in a hauntingly beautiful manner. For the first time, I understood what loneliness meant and how sad it is for any human being to not feel connected. Technology such as the Internet would have totally altered the life of this character, who happened to be a part-time writer. In my real life, it is comforting to know that other people have the same rather mundane daily life as you do. After seeing and participating Facebook for about four months, I really see that most of my friends live and feel like me. That is comforting.

    It is unsettling to feel that someone you don’t know may know a lot about you. Fortunately, during my years at Middle School we were warned of many of the pitfalls of joining internet sites, so it is not terribly unsettling. Still, the Internet world is a world by itself. You have to deal with people misbehaving, and wonder if it really is who they say they are. But, you also can opt to drop anyone that annoys you, and anyone can drop you off their grid. Are there any hurt feelings in that process? Perhaps so, because even though it is a virtual world, you must remember that some real human being’s fingers are on the keyboard.

    Mark Zuckerberg did the human society an enormous favor by opening a wonderful venue for people to connect. I heard from somewhere that he turned down a billion dollars for Facebook. OMG LOL?? It would be so great to hear what he thinks of his great success and his no small contribution to our lives.

    ***

    Mr. Long: Agree with you that it can be comforting and unsettling: “It conveys the notion that so many people can observe you, know you in some sense, and yet they don’t really know you….It is comforting because it is the technological answer to the basic human need to connect with other human beings. “

    I was really struck by your comment that having a presence on FB means you’ve come to realize that most others’ lives are just like yours. ‘Back in the day’ when we had few ways to keep tabs on the tiny parts of peoples’ lives we only learned of the exceptional moments, or what was assumed/rumored to be amazing. Thus, we assume that we live a normal (or maybe ‘tragic’) life while everyone else has something wonderful 24/7. Now, thanks to FB updates/feeds, we get a sense (out of the corner of our eyes) that maybe we’re much more similar…and ‘unique’ in other ways than we used to think.

    Great response. Really glad someone tackled this article, BTW. Wasn’t sure if it’d become an orphan.

  2. Facebook is part of everyday life for most of us in this world. Even if it’s just logging on for a few minutes just to check up on friends or having a full-fledged conversation with one. It’s a place where people can go and feel like their part of something, you could even go as far as to say that it’s become somewhat of a refuge for some of us.

    Facebook definitely has made a significant impact on my daily life. Almost everyday I come home from school the first thing I do is go to the computer and check my Facebook to see what’s going on with everybody. I’ve also made a lot of new friends because of FB, some (if I never had a FB) I would’ve been surprised that we became friends. It’s also helped me become more social, since I’ve kind of been shy about my opinions and usually just keep quiet until someone actually asks me what I think. Now, because of FB, I find myself becoming the person that’s doing the asking. But although all of this is great there are some bad things about FB:

    1) It enables almost anyone and everyone to see who you are, and if you’re not the type that checks up on their FB on a daily basis then it’ will enable those same people to begin DEFINING who you really are as a person.

    2) Sad to say, even though FB is a great website for networking and making friends, the fact that so many people use FB make it a great opportunity for people like child molesters to find a victim. That’s what really makes me upset, have someone create something that’s great and is a benefit for everyone and it’s eventually going to be taken advantage of and abused for other intentions than the original purpose it was made to serve for.

    ***

    Mr. Long: A powerful response, especially given that the article demanded real effort before you even began writing…thanks for giving it a shot!

    Impressive idea that FB has actually given you confidence and a new ‘voice’.

    As for the downside of FB (and other similar sites/networks), this is why I am so passionate about helping adults (parents, teachers, etc) learn how FB really works, b) how it can be a vital, effective part of helping students master the art of ‘networking’ like a professional, c) how to help their students/children understand what a digital footprint means…and how to proactively protect their digital reputation over time, and d) how to minimize/end the opportunities for people who have negative/nefarious goals from even being able to view one’s FB profile.

    Yes, there are bad people out there…but the tool is not the issue. Instead it is a situation — just like in The Veldt — where the majority of the adults have no idea how to help younger people manage their on-line identity(s) and the young people are incapable of understanding the impact of foolish decisions when FB is hardly a closed party.

    For instance, one of your classmates has a profile photo that is 100% inappropriate in every conceivable way — to a parent/grandparent, to a teacher, to an admin, etc — and if that student doesn’t begin to realize that every college they ever apply to will have access to that photo (and thus ‘silently’ reject their application without explaining why), they will be most at risk by losing out on amazing opportunities in the years ahead. The student is a ‘good’ person who works hard at school and deserves to be well received by the ‘real’ world…and yet because no adults are paying attention (esp. those who can offer good advice) and the student is (at this time) ignorant to how the profile photo will be perceived, a potential problem exists.

    If more adults and young people worked together to maximize the opportunities of FB and minimize the foolish mistakes, we’d all be well served. I actually put more responsibility on the shoulders of the adults in this case, and simply hope that more and more young people will begin to realize that everything they do on-line (including all the fake names and avatars and ‘private’ networks) can and will be found/read/considered by colleges and future employers. The stakes are high, and often it only takes a few casual yet intentional conversations to ensure that everyone will be in good shape down the line.

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