Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Interpersonal Connection VS Segregational Technology

While reading the 'Situated Types' chapter in Malcolm McCulloughs book Digital Ground, I found myself often thinking back to a time when I didn't have a cell phone and when the Internet wasn't available to me. This was a much simpler time. Granted I was much younger so of course things were simpler, but in trying to compare the way I felt then to the way I feel now there is one glaring theme that worries me; I used to be much less socially awkward. I would call people instead of texting. I would have face-to-face conversations instead of emailing. Most importantly I would spend more time trying to plan actual social gatherings instead of socializing with all of my friends online.

This isn't to say that I fear technological advancements and that I want us all to go back to the way it used to be before the Internet and cell phones infiltrated our lives. I think that we should continue to advance. It is my personal hope however, that in going forward the technology will work to enhance social interaction instead of hinder it.

I think that these worries of a technology-formed social retardation are what made me so interested in the section of the article entitled 'On the Town', more specifically the subsections about gathering, cruising, and belonging. In an attempt to combine the key points of all three of these subsections, allow me to illustrate an imagined situation, one in which new forms of physical pervasive computing have allowed me to reach out to my friends and strangers without even really needing to think about it (as thinking about it tends to lead to second guessing in my book.)

I am at school. I have been hard at work creating something for my physical computing class and I have decided that its time to call it a night and go get something to eat. This new fancy wearable computer device senses that I am hungry by sampling the sweat on my skin (or something scientific like that). It also hears me say that I am going to Dos Segundos to get a burrito. This wearable computer then sends a signal to my iPhone, and then my iPhone knows to text all of those on my favorites list and tell them where I am going and the directions of how to get there.

After receiving a text that one of my friends is on her way to meet me, I get to the restaurant and decide to wait at the bar because she has not arrived yet. Lets assume it is also a busy Friday night and there are lots of other people sitting by themselves at the bar feeling awkward like me. Not to fear however, because my handy-dandy wearable device (which has been pre-programmed with a list of my interests) has alerted me that the man sitting next to me is also really into the band Rilo Kiley. Both of our computers (I’m imagining it to be some kind of wristband) buzz and light up, alerting us both that are computers have tagged us as potential friends. The visible and auditory feedback that has already been initiated by our computers acts as a conversation starter, therefore making it even less awkward to start up a conversation!

Eventually my friend arrives, which I am alerted to by an automatic text sent to me from her cell phone when she reached the address of the restaurant. Thankfully though my cell phone only vibrates, and does not sound off and interrupt my conversation, as all restaurants have been installed with computers that automatically silence your personal devices upon entering the building. I am then casually able to interrupt the conversation by saying that my friend has arrived (it's more polite than checking your phone every 5 minutes for a text). She walks up to us, and her wearable computer lets my knew friend know that her and him both have an interest in Dadaist art, so we decide to invite our new friend to eat dinner with us.

Afterwards we all easily exchange numbers by bumping wristbands. The wristbands then add the numbers to our respective cell phones and any other peripheral devices we have assigned to it (personal computers, palm pilots, etc.).

As my old friend and I walk out of the restaurant, we comment on how happy we our that our wearable computers alerted us about the friendship potential of this person because we probably wouldn’t have normally pegged him as our type since he was wearing a fancy suite which made him seem like he might be of a higher social caliber.

So, this example maybe somewhat far fetched, but then again maybe not. It is hard to say where this world will be 10 years from now. I do hope that people realize that technology as a whole should be geared towards interpersonal interaction, otherwise I fear that one day we will become so detached from one another that we will all become cold emotionless beings. I can only imagine the horrible state of world affairs if that were to actually happen. No one feeling like they needed anyone else. That would be a nightmare.

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