SHiFT: Stowe Boyd – We make our tools and they shape us

What sort of web doe we want? What sort of world? And how do our tools shape that?

The web is becoming a third place, replacing the third places we had before.

1. home
2. work
3. a place that is neither home nor work, but something else: a library, bar, cafe, park, wherever. Not necessarily with your family or work colleagues.

Movement away from the third place due to the rise of TV. People spend less time in social involvement in the third place. Americans average 4 hours of TV per day… Italians and British also average 4 hours too, so no smugness form the Europeans. Macedonians go for 286 minutes a day.

Television is a disease, because it leads people to sitting passively on a couch having info pushed at them, and are not engaging with people.

But the light at the end of the tunnel is internet. 56% of broadband users watch less tv. People aren’t going back to the pub or cafe or park, but moving on to the net. Using increasingly social tools. Consistent patterns of people’s social interaction within the real world and the virtual world. does not mean that all sociall systems online are equal, or equally good.

So we know this transition is happening. So how do the tools stack up.

Email sucks. Has had a big impact on culture, but it’s terrible. Extremely easy to spam, to treat people homogeneously. People are using less email – proportionately we are using other social tools more. Email changed communications channels in business, and the need for middle-managers went away .

Younger people use email less than older people. People from 13 -19 see email as a corporate evil, a propaganda machine. We’ll see significantly less email in the future.

Instant messaging. The buddy list is the centre of the universe. Average AIM user has the client open for 5 hours a day. Strong advocate of the social cues of IM, status messages etc.

Blogging. All these things came along at once. Biggest impact of blogging is in the US with the dissolution of the traditional media in the US. NYT laid off 400 people this year. Profound impact on journalism, but this isn’t what this talk is about. But blogs are changing what’s happening in the US and it will trickle through to everywhere else too.

Also has impact at individual person level, people communicating with their friends, to make new friends, to participate in the third space online.

Tags. A way for people to create shared meaning.

Explicit social networks, such as Discovered have the musical taste of a 27 year old British woman – she has the most similar taste to me on

Geolocation. Plazes. Where people, and geolocated photos. Bridge from virtual, web world to the real world. Leads to Glocalisation, global products and technology used by a small local network.

Techmeme. Tracks tech memes, and people play the game of jumping on the hottest stories to try to build traffic. Dangerous feedback cycle? Have a piling-on phenomenon, so have a clustering effect. So instead of having 500 stories of interest, it gets narrowed down to 50. Thinks that’s a bad thing because we’re talking about less things, starting to echo each other, talking within the group not to the rest of the world. Bad kind of social model.

If we look at these sorts of social technologies as a group there are certain characteristics that emerge.

Shape of web culture to come, and the potential impact on world culture to come:

– participatory, not passive; people are involved, not just accepting what they’re given or shown.
– open, not closed: anyone can get involved
– inclusive, not exclusive: that’s another reason not to like Techmeme, because it’s an elite group or authors
– edge, not centre: power is moving from the central elite to the edge, to the long tail of millions of people; centralised media organisations are losing control; once you put power in the hands of the people at the edge, it’s unlikely they’ll allow it to go back to the centre.

Our tools have an impact on us, but we can impact them by choosing which tools we use. If you see a tool going in the wrong direction, either complain and say you don’t think it’s going in the right direction, or simply don’t use it.


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