Ambient awareness

I just finished this piece in the New York Times Magazine, and had a few thoughts. Essentially, it takes a sociological view of how sites like Facebook, Twitter and the like affect our lives. It focuses on the news feed aspects of these Web services, and what it means to have the lives of all our friends — close and tertiary — pushed out to us like ticker tape.

Mrs. Blocletters signed up for Facebook before I did, and I probably wouldn’t have joined nearly as soon if she hadn’t. But, like the iPhone (and, coincidentally, partly because of the iPhone), it’s taken a prominent role in my digital life. I get a big kick out of reading updates on others’ lives, which seem at the same time superficial and intimate. I enjoy writing status updates, and have even taken praise for the quality of my statuses (though I’m not sure what criteria one might use to judge).

Why?

What do I care that a former coworker is getting new glasses? Does knowing what friends think of the new “90210” show — a show I’ll never watch — enrich my life? Not exactly. But Facebook has helped me keep connected with people from jobs past, and even reconnect with some I’d lost track of. That has value in lives like mine (and those of many other Gen X- and Gen Y-ers) where work is prominent in, if not the center of, social interaction.

Facebook also allows me to, in effect, swim in the conversations of people I see regularly. I see current coworkers and we’ve already cut through the initial few minutes of catch-up conversation. I don’t have to ask, “What did you do over the weekend?” I already know, so we go right to, “Did you enjoy that movie?”

Status updates are part reverse Hallmark card and part haiku. It’s interesting to me, a people watcher, that friends share their workaday experiences, and insightful to see the words they use and try to glean the subtext.

As far as my own updates, the article I linked to sums it up: “The act of stopping several times a day to observe what you’re feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act.” As a headline writer by trade, I find it oddly fulfilling. I’m trained to read a thousand words and boil them down to five. Status writing uses the same toolkit.

I re-read the last few weeks of my updates while writing this — an interesting exercise in itself. A life in small, easily digestible, cartoon balloons. My updates, like those of my “friends” (whether close or casual), are by no means a full account. Still, they convey a bit of me, and for most people, that’s more than enough.

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