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posted by [personal profile] brain_spew at 07:15pm on 02/05/2009
I find myself curious as to the origins of the phenomenon of social networking. Because, no matter how you want to look at it, it is a phenomenon and could not have come about without the internet.

When I was a child, I read Ray Bradbury's The Murderer. This short story was about a psychiatrist and his paitent, who had been arrested for silencing machines. The future world presented in the short story is frightfully like our own, though with wrist mounted two way radios instead of cell phones. The paitent's criminal act was driven by the need for silence, and he rejoiced that in his act, he'd forced the people around him to converse with each other.

Later, in high school, I encountered a book called Kill Your Television. The author's stance was that all forms of communication evolved out of the need to distribute information. Speech, writing, radio, the telephone and of course, television. Each one began life as a way to move information quicker and quicker and was then ultimately ursurped as a device of leisure and pleasure. TV had run its course and the time had come to destroy it.

The internet, on the surface, is no different. What began as a military communications network has become the heir to TV as a realm of pop culture, and commitee manufactured content. But it is not time for it to die, for the internet is also the heir to CB and Ham radio. Anyone with the proper equipment can enter the fray and be heard. Whether or not they're worth hearing is another matter.

This, then, is the cornerstone of the social networking phenomenon. The internet is the first truly level playing field for not only fun, but the exchange of information. No company may do something and then not hear about it immediately should people approve or disapprove. Amazon's recent mishap with its labeling system removing the rankings of Gay, Lesbian, and Transexual authors and items was a flashpoint as hundreds of bloggers, twitter users and plain old citizens came together and took the company to task for it. Ten years ago, a mere decade, such a phenomenon would have been almost impossible to imagine.

But there is a dark side. In using the digital age to cross borders that were once impossible, we as a race are becoming more isolated from one another. Bradbury's story foretold a world where it is almost impossible to get away from the din and noise of people talking to each other. Where wanting a bit of silence and/or face to face communication is all but unheard of.

So where is social networking going from here? The answer is, I don't know. Ragged Trouser Philosopher published an interesting fictional work called Conversation With God about an Atheist who encounters a being who claims to be God. This being is not a supernatural entity, but the result of evolution and forged the universe and life in order to

In the course of their conversation, "God" explains where humans need to go if they hope to hit the next level of evolution and how we'll be pretty much there within a generation or two. Artificial Intelligence and Genetic Manipulation are the keys, apparently.

I disagree because I don't think that's where we're headed. Are we evolving? Yes. But into digital beings and social networking is the first, tenative step. We are pouring more and more of our lives and ourselves into the internet and the electronic realm. Within the next fifty years, we may see the first true virtual civilization where people are actually plugged into the network, where the cycle of life becomes less biological and more technological.

Or perhaps not.

I do know this. Technology itself is evolving exponentially and in directions no one can predict. In fact, trying to predict and direct it is an exercise in futility and is ultimately pointless. What we must do instead is learn to ride it, be braced for the bumps and twists along the way and take the surprises with a certain amount of skepticisim. Master that skill and not get too absorbed, and we should be fine.

Excuse me, I need to check Facebook.
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