Friday, February 15, 2008

War of the Worlds - Spoofing Social Networking


No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought ofthem only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable.

The War of the Worldsby H. G. Wells [1898]

A study released yesterday draws a strong connection between websites devoted to "social networking" and the inability of their subscribers to network socially. The survey's results suggest that teenagers who conduct social activities via the internet are likely to end up singularly ill-equipped to conduct social activities.
On the plus side, the report goes on to say, many of them develop impressive skills at making pornographic videos with cellphone cameras.In the Stanford University experiment, 30 teenagers were banned from their computers and forced to engage in face-to-face social interplay for a period of three weeks. For nearly all, this proved challenging.

Among the most difficult adjustments they reported were: 1) eliminating frequent pauses they had learned to introduce into conversation to allow for advertising, 2) getting used to just how few actual human heads are highlighted from behind by customized "wallpaper" and 3) finding the cursor.

The humor is perhaps subtle (reminiscent of War of the Worlds?), but the two-pronged message is clear. First, social networking has arrived. You don't spoof things that are not working. Sometimes folks take their time to write about things that aren't going to make it (like the HD DVD that just admitted defeat by BluRay), but no one takes the time to spoof the nearly dead. Second, there may be a bit of reality in this post. How long have today's youth been called socially unaware, only to be defended by well-meaning parents and psychologists who pointed to intereaction in online social networks.

I think the problem we have here is one of transition. The old-school networking model (mostly face-to-face) required social skills like looking at someone (not their shoes) while speaking to them. It required speaking in complete, understandable sentences, not slurring, speaking in code, and using half-finished sentences. And most of all, it required actually finding some value in the relationship, not just connecting for the sake of connecting.
No matter how social we (or our kids) get, you can't learn that stuff behind a computer screen.

What do you think?

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