Ambient Awareness

The New York Times this week ran an interesting article on the emergence of twittering and microblogging, (using up to 140 letters to describe what you are currently doing/thinking and posting it on Facebook and the web). Several interesting points and references are made:.

  • Social Scientists term this available information as ‘ambient awareness’ like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things they do.
  • That this may allow us to “sense the rhythms of our friends’ lives in a way we never had before”
  • “Follow a friends Facebook feed and it begins to feel like a short story; follow it for a month, and it’s a novel.”
  • Robert Dunbars theory that our maximum number of social connections is about 150 on average.
  • So called weak links can increase this ‘Dunbar’ number as Facebook handles and stores the ‘connections’.
  • “It brings back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business.”
  • Self reflection can be good. “The act of stopping several times a day to observe what you’re feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act. It’s like the Greek dictum to “know thyself,”

I think this contains a real revelation about the presence of feedback and light constraints on behaviour that may allow a better social basis for society as a whole. Self organising with comments from our ‘friends’ encouraging good thoughts and actions and discouraging the less good.

Overall I am enthused and optimistic. When previously collecting stories from children who were disconnected from the environment and their childhood friends I used to worry about what darkness would emerge in a disconnected world. This concept of ambient awareness gives me great hope, for it contains the essence of a lot of the values of previous times eg “it takes a village to bring up a child” and “the need to be mindful and express yourself in words” which can only be a good thing.

Hat tip to John M Grohal of PsychCentral for original link to this article but he has a much less optimistic take on it all.


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