Impact of wired world – 14

I’ve been so preoccupied with lots of other stuff it’s been a while since I commented on social media, esp. in the context of Dr. Tracy Dennis’ excellent blog. I’d read this post earlier but with more time for reflection today I have a few comments. In the post Dr. Dennis is commenting on how time at Facebook, based on the more or less temporal random updates creates a disconnect between posts in time and thus suggests that posts must be viewed independently.

it occurred to me that status updates are not meant to be interpreted in the context of preceding status updates. Our brains are pattern recognition machines. So, if Facebook status updates follow one after the other, our brains may perceive a direct sequence of events. But, each status update is a snapshot of a moment, a thought, or a feeling. Intuitively, they are supposed to be stand-alone, not readily interpreted in the context of a previous update, even if they occur close together in actual time. Think how different this is from our face-to-face interactions, in which sequence of events matter.

Dr. Dennis suggests that real-life doesn’t (at least completely) have the same characteristics, the asynchronous updating and viewing. Now I agree that posting is clearly a more or less random event (except for the real fanatics who post so frequently it’s like a continuous recording of their life). And, on top of the random temporal element, I believe there tends to be an even more random subject selection, esp. in blogging (long like this or short like Twitter). In short, social media is this random strobe light that captures some aspect of our life (in sampling theory this is known as aliasing and it’s a real challenge to eliminate this in engineering, esp. in graphics).

But I’m not so sure that “real-life” is that much more consistent. For instance, coworkers see us for just a slice of our life. Clearly what they see on one day vs the previous may be dependent on lots of other things (the frustrating traffic jam, some errand before work, bad night’s sleep, at home challenges (or thrills)). And for those people we see relatively infrequently the “strobe” is even more erratic, so I’d say that often the same effect occurs, i.e. last time I saw person X I was worried about doctor visit; next time, my kid’s bad report card; this time, won the lottery yesterday. What a roller coaster that would be.

So it’s probably only constant for people we see very frequently, esp. family. But also in these settings it’s likely that external events play a smaller role in our intimate interactions with others (or we might actually be sharing the external events in real time).

But the point still holds. Social media captures a very distorted temporal view of us. But I would add that, again except for so frequent posters that every trivial event of their life goes on Facebook, that we also are being selective about what we post/update, and we also select topics based on perceived or anticipated sense of what has been interesting in our lives. Again, a distorted view. The hum-drum here-and-now of work life or home life is largely lost and only selected high/low points are presented.

The interesting part of this, for me, is then what is the impression we leave on strangers in social media since they are getting this aliased sample of our lives. This is amplified by the fact that they also go through their phases and may be paying more attention to us at certain times than others (their strobe modulating ours). Whatever the mechanism I would say, in my current fascination with Nate Silver, there is a lot more noise than signal and that isolating the signal is a challenge. Just another reason that social media is an inaccurate reflection of who we are, and yet, more, in the future, of who we’ll be perceived to be.


About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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2 Responses to Impact of wired world – 14

  1. If you hang out consistently with a group of people, over time you get to know them well enough, whether in life or online. Sometimes online communication is honest in ways unique to being online.

    • dmill96 says:

      Part of the thrust of Dr. Dennis’ research is whether the online experience actually is the same as real life. I wonder (have no data). It seems true, as you say, that repeated contact to people online expands your sense of who they are, but I still have this feeling that it hides a lot, but is inefficient (takes longer to get to know someone). But, OTOH, in real life we respond to a lot of silly stuff that we may ignore online. People are very fixated on appearance yet it’s not that good an indicator, sometimes.

      I once bought an expensive racing bicycle. The store people tried hard to stop me. I didn’t look like the typical racing bicyclists, too tall, somewhat overweight, too old. But in fact I rode just as much as other bicyclists and often blew by “racers” on the road. Yet I didn’t look the part. Strange, that a store would try to discourage me from buying an expensive bike just because they judged me, on appearance, not to be someone who needed such a bike. I’d also done a lot of research about the bike, knew exactly what components it had and a few changes I wanted. Clearly I had “expertise” about bikes and asked hard questions, yet still the store employees shunned me. I almost didn’t buy that bike, due to that treatment, but it was the one I wanted. I’m sure they laughed at me thinking what a fool I was to get it. Now, online, what would have been relayed was the miles I rode per week, the speed I rode at, and my knowledge of bicycle design and they would have happily sold it to me.

      So, perhaps, online we get to be the person we want to be and/or the person we think we are without all the judgmental stuff that happens in real life. Thus the online experience may be deeper in some ways.

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