Thursday, March 17, 2011

A lot of interesting mistakes

Phoebe Connolly's "How Social Media Is Science Fiction" reports on a recent panel discussion, conducted by Annalee Newitz, which included such sf luminaries as Maureen F. McHugh, Bruce Sterling, Charlie Anders. After noting that Matt Thompson posts "a spectrum that starts with collective intelligence, goes through social media and ends with AI," Connolly writes that Maureen McHugh interestingly
reminded the crowd of Robert Heinlein's definition of three levels of science fiction -- at the first level, we're inventors in the basement, at the second level we extrapolate an infrastructure and at the third level, we're positing changes in people's behaviors as a result of this changed world.

McHugh said we're well into the second level of abstraction in how we think about social media, but we're not yet into the third. Consider multitasking -- in general, we're still bad at it, as an MIT study recently demonstrated. "And we're freaked out. But Socrates was freaked out about literacy!" McHugh noted, and the result of literacy was a written record of history. The benefits we're going to gain from offloading part of our social interaction onto the net remain to be seen.
The discussion also talked about the apparently paradoxical shift away from allowing individuals to adopt multiple identities and keeping their Real Life identity private.
It's not just the conversation that we struggle to control online, it's our very avatars. "Part of being social animals is we construct identities," said [Matt] Thompson. Increasingly, our online avatars demand that our identities merge into one--we are asked to log-on to services using an existing Twitter or Facebook account, we're discouraged from interacting anonymously, be it on Craigslist or a discussion forum. This is a change from the fears about ourselves that we expressed in science fiction of say, the 1960s. Doris Lessing, to pick one example, took up this fear in The Golden Notebook. The novel's protagonist, Anna Wulf struggles with possessing multiple social identities.
Connolly's report ends with: "McHugh captured it best: "I think we're making a lot of interesting mistakes." You can read the entire geeky report here.

No comments: