April 8, 2003 20:45 | Culture / Features / Technology / WebBlogging

Teenaged cyborgs, moblogging and Emergence.

Link found on Smart Mobs, and quotes below lifted from the Miami Herald article it linked to.

''[Cellphones] extend the spatial and temporal boundaries of a physical encounter,'' she said, explaining that cellphones are providing a way for young people to stay in touch when they are apart.
It is far more than a mere "way to stay in touch when they are apart". That what we've been using telephones for since the start. The interesting part is how cellphones, with integrated, easy instant messaging "extend the spacial and temporal boundaries". Extend? It erases them, and not merely for "physical encounter": for direct communication. Take this:
Linked by cellphones and possessing the ability to exchange silent messages anytime, anywhere, these young people respond to each other quickly, creating the feeling of always being connected.
"Always being connected" + "always being able to communicate" = social network, and more. Read on.
Because contact is almost constant, kids no longer need to set appointments with each other based on time and place. More importantly, they no longer need to wait for each other to arrive somewhere.
A nice feature, to be sure, but one that pales in comparison to the ability to ask questions and receive answers to things perhaps more profound than "where are you?". "Are you mad at me?" "What's the answer to question 8b?" "I am at that restaurant you told me at. What was that dish you recommended?" "Someone said the police is preparing to confront the protesters... have you seen any?" ...
All this demonstrates that for Japanese teens cellphones aren't just portable extensions of the phones most of us have at home. These little wireless devices, which now come with built-in cameras and even video capability, represent a fundamental shift in the way people communicate.
Communicate AND make decisions. What we have here my friends is the first mobile/portable technology which allows humans to practice that wonderful natural phenomenon known as "emergent behavior". It is also the first mobile/portable technology which allows us to extend and mesh our minds into a collective "movement".

A few weeks back at the DECONversation and DECONcert events in Toronto, I heard Steve Mann repeat: "interesting things happen when you hook-up a group of people's minds". At the time, I thought he was referring to some notion of stimulation and response on the brainwave level, but here we have the same phenomenon occurring not in the brainwaves, which still need to be decoded, but in a communication medium, language, which we already understand.

Once again, the show-stopper, as it were, is the interface between our minds and the facilitating technology. Typing SMS messages is clumsy at best (a product of this is text-speak, a.k.a. l337, etc... text-based shorthand... stenography as developed by the minds of the users, mostly teenagers... but I digress...).

Steve Mann and his students have elaborate Cyborg gear (sorry, wearable computers!), such as "EyeTaps" and headsets and microphones and probably suffer from the fact that their tools have no where near the critical mass of the Japanese wireless telecom infrastructure. This means high costs, severely limited accessibility to large numbers of users, etc. Therefor they are somewhat limited in how far they can push such experiments (like the DECONcert, for example), but god love em for doing it!

Anyways, if used in this fashion, cellphones extend our individual's minds into others' for communication, and if weblogging does the same (in a currently non-mobile/portable setting) as well as extends our memory into the public space (archives, Google, permalinks, Trackbacks), then what can we see from this vantage point?

The "mot du jour": MoBlogging. (Mann calls it "Glogging" - cyborg logging) And you thought it was about posting little photos on your blog? Hehehehe.

Technology wise, all the pieces are here: hook up cellphone SMS to feature-rich personal CMS systems, draw a few lines between what is private and what is publicly available (Instant Message is private, Blog Posting is public), et voila. NOW you have all the ingredients for truly Emergent Behavior from humans. The inevitable result is the need for reformed social systems, governance included.

This is not far off at all. It is right in front of us. In fact... it's standing next to you right now.


The trend is also indicative of our embracing "experiences" and visceral, as opposed to vicarious living. Through the use of the image and text enhanced personal communicator, we are sharing immediacy of experience with others in our tribe. During the DECONversation, Stelarc maintained that the body was obsolete, while Steve Mann suggested that we are in the post-cyborg age in which the body makes a comeback. One could argue that vicarious living through our technological extensions is very much characteristic of the cyborg age and, indeed, obsolescence of the body. In many ways, this is the condition of our current culture. However, as we experienced at DECONcert, the performance would not have occurred save for the visceral experience; our instantaneous communications enable shared experiences, but retrieve physical presence in a way that "traditional" internet connections (and certainly television and radio) do not.