Friday, February 12, 2010

There’s A Buzz in the Bucket

OK, there is now a little “buzz” icon on my gmail page – looks like a chat balloon in red, yellow, blue and green.  The page looks a bit like my Google Wave page; little thumbnail images of people I know, other little images of people I might want to know.  Both pages bear a bit of a resemblance to my Facebook page, but I don’t go there very often so I would have to check.  Same with my Linkedin page, which I visit even more infrequently, and the Ning Community I created a couple of years ago.

I guess I keep hoping that one of these cool new tools will actually increase the quality of the information being communicated.  I should know better.  Garbage in, garbage out; that little bon mot has been with us since the dawn of the computer age.  Certainly, the bucket containing the information will have its inevitable impact.  But the essential nature of the information is dependent upon the care and effort that went into its creation. Buzz will not improve the quality of the images formerly posted on Picasa or Flickr.  Placing fragmented observations on Twitter make them no more profound than when they were posted on Facebook.  The current thinking seems to be that we all wish to be heavily invested in the surface of hundreds of lives, and each company wants to deliver the environment that best facilitates such emotional dilettantism.  Less considered is the reality that if we spend our energy maintaining hundreds of tangential relationships, we must necessarily reduce the effort we expend on those true friendships that actually sustain us.

I sense, in the current introductory flurry of online and in-the-hand devices, an unusually disjointed cycle in the perennial negotiation between the communicative exigencies of a culture and the technological responses to those pressures.  Perhaps the issue is not, as it has often been, that we lack the tools to address our communicative needs.  Perhaps the current situation reflects a glut of tools to handle increasingly myopic perceptions and expressions.  I can show people around the globe pictures of my puppy a dozen different ways, but representatives from two different political parties cannot see common ground across a narrow aisle in a single room.  I can listen to my favorite pop star on four different devices secreted about my person, but theologians are deaf to any voice save their own; governments seek to constrain the flow of digital information to “protect” their people from “inappropriate” messages.

The paradox is almost amusing; the power of our communication technology seems, at the moment, to far outstrip the uses to which we put it – a wonderful paring knife for skinless grapes.

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