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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Something's Happening Here


I was reading an interesting article written by Kate Greene that appears in the November/December issue of MIT's Technology Review magazine. The article, titled "What Is He Doing?" is about Evan Williams, the founder of Blogger (host of this blog) and now the founder of a new company called Twitter. On first reading this article, I thought Twitter sounded fairly pointless. The concept of this dot-com company is to have people answer a simple question in 140 characters or less: "What are you doing right now?" The Twitter member files an answer via their computer or cellphone. The messages (known as tweets) can say something as simple as "Sitting at my computer typing my daily blog." These little missives are then automatically sent to a pre-determined list of friends. Tweets can be entered as many times a day as you like. Some people update their tweets a dozen times a day. There are estimated to be a half a million people engaged in this zany activity.

Despite the numbers, I wonder who wants to read all this dribble? Do I really want to know what my friends are doing at any given moment of the day? Do I want to tell them what I am doing? Given that I am somewhat beyond the Millennial Generation, my first response is that this is BORING! But my second thought is... I'm not so sure.

People have an amazing capacity to socialize and connect. What would tell me more about a friend, an occasional e-mail or a tweet that describes the minutiae of my friend's day? Maybe the latter. But this troubles me in other ways as well. Is this a voluntary form of invasion of privacy (if we do it voluntarily)? Why spy on someone when they will Tell All anyway?

People have long speculated on the emergence of a "global consciousness". Various names have been applied to this idea: Giai, Metaman, the Global Brain, or the Nooshere. A common thread runs through this sort of thinking: there is a consciousness on the planet that is the integration of all of our individual consciousnesses. We seem to be steadily progressing toward a world where we are so intimately connected that maybe we really will have a Global Oneness. Maybe Twitter (and the host of recent clones that have appeared to exploit the same concept) is the next step after e-mail and cellphones to link up our digital lives.

What is a little creepy to me about all this is that if there really is such a thing as a global brain, will there be a time when I am not really acting on my own free will (even if I think I am) but rather fulfilling some small part of the larger brain think?

I am not rushing out at the moment to start sending tweets to my friends. I have always been someone who sorta hangs at the edge of the "technology dance floor" to see who is joining the party. I was late to the cellphone phenom and only recently started this blog so who knows? Before you know it, I may be spilling my boring guts to one and all. Too bad for all my friends. But that's the price for a really smart planet.

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