Thursday, February 14, 2008

V-Day Special: My true love--the internet (and counterpoints)

I just had a long and interesting conversation with my friend Jayna about the merits and shortcomings of the internet (which, oddly enough, came on the heels of my half-serious proposal that I move back to Milwaukee and study astrophysics). The fundamental difference between us (at least as I see it) is that, given the option, I would prefer to live in the future, whereas Jayna prefers a romanticized past. I can't say who is "right"; I think there are a number of very good points on both sides, which is why I'm sharing it and asking where you all stand?
(sorry for the awkward formatting and spelling and such--I guess that's one drawback of conversations via internet rather than in real life, huh?)

Jayna (in response to me questioning whether my fascination with the universe can really be considered a "love"): uh, yeah
your face brittens up and you get silly
but maybe you love tech start ups just as much
you probably do, i just like the litterary nature of you turning your world into books and discover the universe after an english degree

me: love is a pretty strong word for it--i'd call it closer to a fascination. i'd have to get to know it a lot better before i'd throw out a term like love.

Jayna: oh, you boys are all the same
you pretty much know if you love something
its just a matter of if you are willing to put in the hard work

me: that's true and i agree with you there, but that doesn't change my view that this is much more of a fascination than a love
i love the internet, i'm fascinated with space and physics

Jayna: yeah, i get it
thats cool
i guess i dont really get the love of the internet thing
but i get a love of the universe

me: i mean, the internet is like the universe on a much smaller scale. it started as a single piece of code on a single computer, and burst rather rapidly into an ever-expanding network with tons and tons of different uses and iterations.

Jayna: yeah, i thought you would make that connection

me: plus it's a place where geeks like me can have a field day
of course!

Jayna: still doesnt turn me on
sad to say

me: that's fair
for many people it doesn't
i've been fascinated since i was about 4 or 5 and my brother started chatting over the internet with his friend reed on our commodore 64

Jayna: i wonder, what kind of a field day do you have on the internet
i tend to find it alienating after a while

me: well, finding out a lot about the universe, talking to friends, reading about politics, coming up with contacts for a company that is based entirely on the internet, etcetc

Jayna: yeah, i guess your imagination takes you

me: it's nearly as boundless as your imagination--if you are adept enough with it you can create and do anything
it's maleable technology
and frankly it's still very very early on in its existence and power
our kids are going to wonder how we survived in a world where we couldn't constantly be connected to every square mile of the earth over the internet
from anywhere
i think the real beauty in facebook is that it's the first big thing on the internet to truly model real life. granted i think many of the whole applications features and trying to become an ad network and all those business moves have diverted from the original concept of a social graph (which is why i don't facebook much anymore), but the concept itself was revolutionary and i think is an indicator of what's to come

Jayna: so as a social networking tool, you think it is successful

me: well, yes and maybe.

Jayna: i just cant get away from the voyeristic outlook of the whole thing
we used to express our character then the cult of personality proved a stronger force of power

me: yes, in its original iteration, the idea of the social graph was a successful model of real life and created a sort of extension of ourselves over the internet. the maybe part is in the definition of social networking, or more accurately what makes a successful social networking tool--one that models real life? one that introduces you to new and relevant people? one that creates a whole different network on which to interact? a good deal of that is up to personal preference

Jayna: now what is it
we express an image of ourselves in a third relm ont ehinternet

me: define time frame on your last comments--is that within facebook or within recent human existence?

Jayna: we are more distanced from ourselves as we are overly consumed in others lives and how they view our own life

me: i don't believe that's true at all
i think that only through other people do we find ourselves
i think the whole being consumed in others lives and how they view our lives has been a personality trait of many humans for many years. i don't think that's changed with the internet.

Jayna: if human interaction is how we define ourselves, then doesnt the internet lack a fundamental aspect

me: how so? it's just another form of interaction
it opens us up to far more people

Jayna: without human contact, without a voice or a face, a gesture. its a projection of human's interacting
like plato's cave
i agree that we are fundamentally consumed in others lives but i also believe that is a negative aspect of societies
it think its better played down in the media and new technologies will only worsen it

me: you have too short a view of the internet. yes, that's what it has been to this point, but look at the hot technologies these days--lifecasting, internet phone services with video capabilities, video things in general--it's bringing real people together more and more as the technology to do so develops
so you'd also argue that reality tv, and tv in general, and radio before it, and newspapers before that are all signs of the downfall of society because we care increasingly more to find out more and more about other human beings?

Jayna: real people with the infrastructure to support this rapidly changing technology
yes, exactly
not exactly, actually
i think you know where i would draw the line to your statement

me: so you think we'd be better off as jungle elephants, living by ourselves and wandering, only to come together to mate and then separating again so that we could exist in our own little world and not know what other creatures of our species are like?
no i don't know where you'd draw the line, it's an evolution over time and i think it's shortsighted to dismiss the internet as separate from that evolution

Jayna: for the most part, i tend to romantasize that image and flirt with the idea that it would be better

me: so you don't want to be smart? you don't have an innate itch to learn, not necessarily in the academic sense, but skills and knowledge that can help you live a more fulfilling life?

Jayna: and how can you understand something as an evolution in teh first 50 years of it
you are being presuptuous as well
that is taking it very far
all i know for sure is that i would rather being having this conversation with you at a bar and in "real life" then like this

me: because of its reach, potential for greater exponential growth (like similar technologies before it), and because of its encompassment of previous technologies. it fits the evolutionary graph perfectly.
that's fair but in a month you're going to be in india and a few years ago there's no way we could've been having this conversation

Jayna: isnt an evolutionary graph subject to change like anything else :)

me: absolutely!

Jayna: a few years ago we would meet at a bar after work like normal people
and while im in india i intend to be in india
not projecting myself into a vertual space which i could od from anywhere

me: but it's not going to have crazy shifts and such--technology to this point follows humans and humans are predictable. now, a few years down the road when we build technology that can outthink us on enormous levels, the graph may see a shift, or perhaps a completely new graph will begin as the machines we've created go on to create their own technologies
that's fair, but don't you find some consolation in the fact that you CAN contact people back home in case of an emergency or just because?

Jayna: yeah and i could have done that thirty years ago aswell
i dont dislike all technology
i just think we need to seriously ponder the effects of teh internet on our lives and society

me: 30 yrs yes, but 100? not so much.

Jayna: 100 yrs ago my family was in india
i would have just walked to their hut

me: oh sure it's a constant struggle, but it's not a new one--it's one we go through with every new technology, which is why so few major changes are adopted overwhelmingly quickly (just take a look at the news stories from the early 90s on the internet, or newspaper articles about radios)
that's not the point at all! the point is unversal connectedness and becoming a global society!

Jayna: you feel a part of a global society
because of the internet
of is this something you imagin in 50 yrs
the internet gives us access to an elight global society for sure
like being a tourist of the owrld

me: i feel much moreso a part today than i would've 50 years ago, and i imagine in 50 years we'll feel even moreso as the technology evolves

Jayna: it doesnt replace lived experiences

me: it's not supposed to!
and again, the access to elite global societies is such a short-sighted view of this stuff

Jayna: then how can you creat your global society

me: the internet is not a replacement for real life, it's an extension of it

Jayna: so you think we will end famin and thirst and then have universal internet access
or does the internet come first

me: obviously i'd prefer the whole thirst and famine and war to be ended first, but look at the efforts of the OLPC program and intel's coming answer to it to see that the internet is spreading to these areas as they are developing

Jayna: i just think those problems are symbolic of the inability of our 'global society' to be function on a universal level
that seems to be how you imagin this new interaction
as a great equalizer
that doesnt exist

me: would you not agree that on a broader, longer-term scale we seem to be improving such things? the internet is helping us recognize these issues and bring them to the forefront so that we can assist with them

Jayna: to the forfront meaning what
we know about darfer (sp?) but what can we do with this info

me: meaning to the attention of those with the power to change these problems for the better

Jayna: those people always knew about it

me: are you kidding? how many people have mobilized and donated to causes like darfur based entirely on the internet?

Jayna: so you believe those donations are an answer

me: no. again, the internet is not a replacement for real people taking real action, but it helps those people doing positive things gain both monetary and moral support

Jayna: you can through money on a problem to make this new global society feel better about the problem but that doesnt chang ethe institution that creates and mantains it

me: so what alternative would you posit in that case?

Jayna: there you go, an org. puts up a web site and people donate. they are donating to a project idea
not a hard reality

me: do you think the internet is a distraction to those people promoting and implementing change?

Jayna: yes
i think most of the "change" today is

me: how so?

Jayna: green washing
global warming lectures
its a way to make us feel like we are doing are small part and fall a sleep at
it keeps us from thinking deeper

me: again, what do you posit as an alternative?

Jayna: human interaction
simple time and energy

me: and how would we "think deeper" if we didnt know about any of this stuff?
the more we know the more we can take action on causes we truly believe in

Jayna: we dont have to think deeper we have to act deeper
are actions have to count more

me: not everyone is going to dedicate their lives to alternative fuel, but by pushing that message on a broad scale, you're more likely to influence more people to take up the cause and act seriously
fine act deeper but how do you find out about these things then?

Jayna: local initiatives
if we all cared a bit more about what was happening around us instead of what star is preggy or who just ODed
i know i am not that person but i think it would be nice if there were more of them
i know it is not that simple

me: okay so my "village" of milwaukee magically discovers this global warming problem and 1/1000th of our population (a HUGE proportion) decides to take up the cause seriously and act upon that. unfortunately, our small village can't have a global impact without communication to other villages that need to join in the crusade. additionally, if 1/1000th of our population in milwaukee is dedicated wholly to making a difference in this cause, other important things get neglected
sure some people use the internet to read about britney, but they would've watched it on tv before, or would have listened to it on radio before that, and would have read about it in newspapers before that

Jayna: im not soley talking about the internet inregards to this media sensation
tv and radio included

me: people are naturally curious about the lives of other people, and putting certain people in the spotlight allows many people to live vicariously through them and also have something to interact with others about

Jayna: i have somehting i want to say about the global issues thing you jsut mentioned but i should get some work done

me: im not promoting it, and it's by no means the main utility offered by the internet, but the internet is not the first technology to be taken from it's original purpose to be utilized for other outlets of human curiosity as well (namely, each other)

Conversation to be continued tonight over drinks. Please please please weigh in on this!


jed said...

A study of human nature across recorded history will indicate very few changes. We have the same stuggles for power, companionship, esteem, etc. This accounts for our perfect understanding of the emotions and attitudes conveyed in literature written two thousand years ago.
The only constant over these last two thousand years has been technological change. Our social evolution has been defined by these changes (stone, iron, industrial, etc.), and our lives have been entirely shaped by their effect on nutrition, transportation, communication, etc.
Will the internet transform human behavior? It will bring human beings across physical boundaries into a much tighter network of communities. It will change our social structures and our “way of being.” But it will assuredly not change inherent human motivations.

Jayna said...

agreed, human motivation is timeless. i dont think im concerned about changing motivation though. i'm concerned with the mode with which this motivation is conveyed. The means by which we struggle for power, search for companionship and vie for esteem are becoming increasingly hidden from the participants gaze and grasp.

take ty's example of global warming. this is an issue, agreed. but due to the media and our ability to transmit (superficial) information at lightning speed, our human nature leads us to (re)act emotionally on impulse. Obviously the internet is an amazing venue for dialogue and information sharing. But it also allows us to feel very deeply connected to an issue without really understanding it. An image here, a sound-bite there, the skimming of an article, then we move on to the next sensation.

The result achieved by this seemingly innocuous interaction with the internet can be carefully crafted to belie the motivation of those behind it. history has shown us that media is controlled by power or soon co-opted by it. And how do things get power in a capitalist inspired media? By making money for those powering it. cynical, maybe. But, for example, i don’t believe that the global carbon trading market inspired by our current global warming hysteria is going to solve this problem nor will buying “green” bath cleaning product. Both of these things will make the figures behind them extremely wealthy, though, while we feel informed reading about it on the internet.

I guess I am just wary about a context that purports universality and equality while interacting within this web of human motivation. But hopefully, with time, the websurfer will become more sophisticated. though, as we have seen with general televised media audience, maybe not.

ty-i was going to write this in an email, but i thought it more fitting to post it. so here you are, my blogging v-card. i feel so vulnerable. ;)