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yARN: Social obligation in the connected age

yARN: Social obligation in the connected age

'Obviously ... it is mandatory to not have a life'

I am frequently given pause to stare (somewhat open mouthed) at those around me as I watch them itching to get out their smart phone, iDevice or other tablet to update their Twitter friends; to add still more of life’s minutiae to their Facebook page; to send someone a TXT message; to tend to their ‘farm’ (or whatever the latest Zynga game theme is).

It’s pretty obvious that they have limited control over this urge; it’s also rather obvious that in satisfying this urge, they actually have very little to say.

After-all, just how much could have happened in the past five minutes?

Let’s take Twitter as an example. How many times have you attended an event – perhaps a conference, an educational session or even a sports fixture? These days, it seems half the audience has their noses (and fingers) glued to their device as they madly tweet every utterance made. They also madly hold their device up as high as possible (in a forlorn attempt to get above everyone else’s devices) to take a photo of each PowerPoint slide as it arrives on the overhead projector.

Just who will read these ultra short missives? It would seem that everyone who wants to know about the event is already there. Is it some kind of group note taking; some kind of agreed narrative to become a permanent record of the event? Probably not.

Facebook is really no different, except that it lacks the ease of defining a shared narrative; it has no such thing as a #hashtag. Ignoring that, the urge to update is still quite ferocious.

In the same vein, I recall a workmate who was absolutely desolate when corporate IT policy was changed to ban access to Farmville, even at lunch break.

In this highly connected world, it has become almost mandatory to split one’s waking hours into three equal parts. The first third is spent actually living one’s life.

The second portion (often intermingled with the first) is spent recording, transmitting and reviewing that life.

And the final part is spent following everyone else’s lives.

Obviously, in order to become part of this ecosystem, it is mandatory to not “have a life”; to be so engrossed in the living-transmitting-following cycle that nothing else matters.

Clearly, this is social obligation of the highest order, it’s just a pity that we don’t really know who it is we’re obligating ourselves to.

In my next article on the topic, I’ll take a look at the products (real and imaginary) which could address this rather large niche.


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