Mobile Communities and New Technologies - An Urban Grind Tweetup

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Urban Grind North West is, I think, the predominate manufacturer of Twitter synchronicities in PDX” - Jeremy Wilkin, via Twitter.

An amazing discussion happened today between a number of Tweeple, namely Gabriel (@sirgabe) and @jerwilkins of Tinderbox Creative. Of course, @brampitoyo was there, and @donpdonp & @pdxflaneur also stopped by. Also, @xtalwiese was there for a bit (but had to leave for Psychology class in the middle). I wish I could have typed more about what was said during this encounter, but it was too loud at Urban Grind to use a tape recorder. The following is a brief recap.

A Discussion Begins

The conversation started with various subjects, business cards were exchanged, and favorite websites were visited and recommended. But quickly the conversation turned towards the future of technology. A bit of Cyborg Anthropology was discussed (as @jerwilkins knows a classmate of mine who took Cyborg Anthropology a year before me), which morphed into a discussion of the new physical and sensory boundaries Internet access has given humans.

Amber: With a cell phone, the capability of your ear has been expanded thousands of miles. With a computer, your hands can take you to Japan and back in seconds. With the profiles you’ve created, you can literally be in 400 places at once, while others interact with the pieces of yourself you’ve saved different times and spaces.

Bram: What is that called? Omniscience.

Amber: Omniscience, Omnipotence. There is such a great extension of the self/senses occuring!

A Short History of the Telephone

Amber: There was a lot of controversy when the first phone came out. Some people couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that one would enjoy going into a closed room to talk at the walls. To disembody a voice, the essence of one’s character, and pipe it through a device, seemed literally insane! Then came the cordless telephone. There’s a story behind this one. Innovation comes in amusing ways.

I met the grandson of the inventor of the cordless telephone at an SEO conference in February. He told me that his grandfather was sitting in a comfortable chair while watching television when the phone rang. He said that he didn’t want to make the effort to get up and answer it. (In reality, he was a WWII veteran and had lower back pains from his time in the military). George Sweigert actually used a part from his washing machine for the invention, and in doing so created the cordless telephone to releive the efforts of the handicapped (more on this on the Wikipedia article on George Sweigert).

And with the arrival of the mobile phone on the scene, speech suddenly became mobile. The ability to talk in virtually any segment of time and space became available (provided reception existed).

The Rise of Mobile Communities

And now, communities also becoming untethered from time and space. As time and space compress, so does the amount of space it takes to represent community. People are coming back into social interaction from the formerly fragmented, private world of the suburbs. The current economy simply cannot withstand the amount of luxury and waste an expanded and separated social reality takes to run smoothly. I was reading a book at the Library of Congress on Urban Development that had a diagram of the back and forth flows a city makes when it expands to suburbs and then contracts back into itself. It’s a natural cycle, and we’re seeing a move back in with the help of mobile technologies and mobile communities.

With Twitter, it’s like having a mobile social group on hand at all times. Little friends in the palm of your hand or on your screen. An entire community that goes with you, wherever you are. A lot of people can Tweet with friends and family and stay connected across vast distances while at conferences. Formerly the speed of E-mail and Letters did not afford a level of real-time response that signifies belonging to a community.

Technology as a Mediating Vector

Jeremy: Technology I’m curious about the effects of these mediating vectors. The cell phone instantly appearing, and then the fact that suddenly every has this amnesia about living before the cell phone’s existence.

The Emotive Epoch

Gabriel brought up the concept of the 'Emotive Epoch'. “Have you heard of it?” he asked us. “It’s a set of Emotional Hotkeys. You can send hot keys to any sort of emotional brain signal you sent out. You can use these to control games.”

Amber: Cool, so if you get really angry in Photoshop, a new file could be created!

Gabriel: (laughs) Yeah, it might be a little tricky for applications that aren’t games.

Jeremy: Using EEG readings and biofeedback mechanisms as interfaces is really starting to blur physical and mental boundaries.

Gabriel: There’s also The Audeo. It’s a voice box for people with Lou Gehrig’s Disease that helps people create queries via thought and then spits them back out as text to speech.

In the tests, they had people thinking a question in their minds, and then getting the feedback as text to speech in their headphones.

It’s incredible. Imagine thinking a search query to Google and then getting the response back in speech.

Jeremy: Yeah, (pauses) …”thanks Wikipedia!”

Amber: It’s interesting that these technologies are emerging because of a human pain. The fact that there is now a lot of money pouring into charities that support research to eliminate/solve human pain and suffering.

Jeremy: It’s kind of like Buddhism, really. Suffering is almost a vehicle of expansion. In the beginning we start with the idea that something is inherently something that it should not be, and we ask ourselves, “how do we make it something that should be?

That plays really well into the hands of technology.

Amber: And in the Tao, there’s the concept of oneness and wholeness. Humans have always had this idea that they are separate from others, especially in suburban areas, where space is privatized, and personal vehicles abound. And there’s the moment when a child first recognizes the image in the mirror as a reflection, or an ‘other’, or of the mother as ‘other’. Jeremy: The concept of ‘I’, instead of the idea that we’re all just extensions of this same basic thing. The saddest thing is the words I, Me, Mine, like “this is the space that is me”.

Gabriel: There’s this norm that exists in identifying things by boundaries, but the box is just in our minds and we don’t realize that this box is inside out.

Jeremy: I think transcendence is about dissolving this box.

Gabriel: Then perhaps technology is a vehicle — we persue transcendence through technology.

Amber: What we’re experiencing right now is like a replica of the industrial revolution. The beginning of the 20th century saw massive amount of patent filings and new technological developments. It also saw the carving up of minor roads and the construction of massive buildings and highways.

Today we’re seeing all sorts of patents are being filed, but they’re being filed for ideas — for intellectual property. All sorts of new roads and buildings are being built, but they’re being built online. The difference is that tearing up a highway to make a redirect in the past cost millions of dollars and many months.

Now the time and space it takes to reroute traffic can be done by the simple implementation of a 301 Redirect, and this probably takes the relative equivalent of $20 of time and skill to pull off. Jeremy: So then these redirects are protocols — symbolic protocols, of a more literal construction of highways. Data highways.

Amber: Yes. We’re becoming a more organic society as this happens. Traffic can adapt to changing conditions, and roads can change to accommodate new locations. The shape of space makes users move, and the direction and number of users shape space.

Sociologist Emelie Durkheim said that as a society matures, the whole of it changes from a mechanical state to an organic one. Things begin to flow more smoothly.

Cell Phones as Biological Cells

Amber: A cell in the human body has a phospholipid bilayer that keeps things out while keeping the important cellular organelles within its center. At the core lies the DNA of the cell, while the more temporary RNA that the cell uses to duplicate information has more mobility, especially in times of the protein manufacturing that goes on inside the cell. In computing, the DNA is equivalent to hard drive memory, and the RNA the Random Access Memory, as RAM is more temporary memory. But there’s also the channel protein, which lets information in and out of a cell (on a cell phone this would be the imput keys), and the identification protein, which allows the ID of the cell phone to relay to cell phone towers. So cell phones really function like cells. The macro and the micro are self similar. We’re a self-similar universe. Jeremy: Everything is based on organic data. Lots of machines are based on things that only animals can do. Airplanes, helicopters, ect.

15 Megabytes of Fame

One of my coworkers told me that social media was no longer about having 15 minutes of fame, but having 15 megabytes of fame. And those 15 megabytes can be unevently distributed across many sites and times.

Next time there will be a better portrait of the discussion. I am slowly practicing towards an adequate representation of events.

Source: Hazelnut Tech Talk by June 8, 2008