Seeing For the Very First Time: Ambient Social Networking

We all know popular websites like Facebook and Twitter as examples of how people keep in touch with others via the Internet. We now live a world with an added layer: a virtual existence. You’re on a trip? Share your pictures. Found a cool article? Share it with your friends and followers. Found a fly in your soup? Let the world know.

More than just an alternative way to stay connected and speak out, these social networks are a way to meet other like-minded folks and expand your friendships–if just virtually. In all, we’re getting in touch with more people in more ways than ever before.

This brings us to the technology being introduces now, a whole new plateau of how the Internet can help us connect with people. It’s a combination of the virtual and the physical and it goes like this:

Imagine you’re in a coffee shop or out at a bar. You happen to start talking to a stranger whiling shooting pool or while both of you are watching the game. After talking to the guy for 15 minutes, you find out you share quite the connection: you’re both Ron Paul fans; you’re both avid fly fishermen; you’re both working on a screenplay; whatever. You leave that night with a great contact who you stay friends with and do things with for a long time and thank your lucky stars you sat on that very bar stool on that very night. Randomly crossing paths with such a kindred spirit is quite the event.

Ambient Social Networking works to make these run-ins a lot more available. Whereas standard social media can introduce and connect us virtually with people far and wide, ambient social networking can help us connect with and get to know better the people right next to us. In a nutshell, your phone would alert you with information about the people in your proximity–assuming they choose to share their info with the network and have it activated. When in a coffee shop, you’d find that the guy sitting by the fireplace had once traveled to the destination you had been considering. Maybe they work for a company you’re looking to work for; maybe it’s someone who went to the same high school. It could be lots of things.

Who knows the kinds of friends or connections one has about them at any given moment without ever knowing it? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that information? It doesn’t mean you have to act on it. But the option would be nice.

While at a coffee shop, writing this very article as a matter of fact, I mentioned all this to the young female barista on break and sitting nearby. I explained how it worked and she declared how dumb an idea it was. “That’s too much”, she said. “Just go and talk to someone.”

I can see her point. This technology provides information without having to get it the old-fashioned way. But all these new technologies have this negative potential, don’t they? Facebook enables isolation by staying “in touch” without ever talking to one another. But on the flip side, it also enables more and better connections. It’s a double-edged sword. So I played devil’s advocate and mentioned the positive potential of ambient social networking, not as a prevention to interaction, but a facilitator for it.

“But you’re probably not going to talk to a random stranger”, I said to the barista. “I’m not going to talk to that guy or that woman”, I added pointing at strangers.

No matter; the young lady wasn’t convinced. And soon our conversation ended, and she went back to texting. I wondered if she might have been someone to once think texting was dumb, too, because it kept people from actually talking to friends–or to new people at a coffee shop.

The founders of ambient technology are so high on it that they liken its use to a blind person seeing for the first time. They mean this in two ways: 1.) attempts to describe sight to a blind person is met with naturally met with misunderstanding. How could they imagine something so unimaginable? Trying to describe ambient social networking to those unfamiliar is something like this because its potential is so unique to our present normal experience.

2.) once/and if the technology starts rolling, we’ll begin to see the world in a way we never had before. The heightened awareness via this new source information will make each trip to a social setting a much more rich and potentially productive–or just plain enjoyable–experience.

More than just seeing the light of day, we’ll see if ambient social networking–the ability to know more about those about you–will catch on and brighten our lives.

to new plateaus,

-Brandon

*This piece was inspired from this TechCrunch.com article: http://techcrunch.com/2012/12/16/the-air-above-our-heads/

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3 comments

    1. I sometimes work on my computer from my bed like others watch TV from theirs. It’s an option. That’s all. If I don’t want to, I don’t. You worry this technology risks too much attachment–it does–but so does every technology. It’s the benefit that you miss because you only see the negative potential.

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