Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ambient Awareness

I joined Facebook about six months ago, and surprised myself by getting into it. Who would have thought reading all the What are you doing now? feeds from "friends"--from nodding acquaintances, to family, intimates, friends of friends-- would turn into a fascinating sort of Walt Whitmanesque broad view of the world?

"I'm listening to the rain," I wrote today, joining a chorus: from a fellow freelance writer: "Lydia is done with the chefs and is now working on Madrid," to "Betty attended a Rotary event at the newly renovated Carolina First Center last night," "Julie is missing her friend Richard today, ""Mike is missing bocci and zeppolis and the san gennaro festival in nyc," "Joshilyn is not sleeping. Ever again. Apparently."

So now I learn, from this fascinating NYT magazine article by Clive Thompson, that sociologists call this kind of social networking, "ambient awareness":

Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. The ambient information becomes like “a type of E.S.P.,” as Haley described it to me, an invisible dimension floating over everyday life.

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