So Facebook has 500m users. Roughly one in twelve people on the planet. Does anyone know the source of this stat? (Facebook I assume).  Just reminds me slightly of the hype around Second Life, when figures like 4m, 6m and 12m were flying around. Seems neither has a business model yet.

The Power of Blogging

Several researchers, such as Alice Flaherty, a neuroscientist at Harvard University in the US, have suggested that blogging could have a therapeutic value. It is well known that writing about personal experiences, especially negative thoughts, can have a positive biological effect on a person.

For example, writing has been shown to increase memory, aid sleep and help people to recover faster after surgery. We don’t know how this works because the area associated with such communication within the limbic system is located too deep within the brain to study. Nevertheless, I suspect it won’t be long before hospitals are prescribing blogging to patients to help them recover from surgery or to boost the immune system in cancer patients.

An e-rosion of empathy?

What will the emerging fields of robotics and artificial intelligence do to our minds? Do you remember the appearance of Tamagotchi toys from Japan over a decade ago? These were the little electronic critters much beloved by small children in playgrounds the world over. Unfortunately these little darlings had a habit of ‘dying’ if they weren’t looked after properly and this caused genuine grief. So what will happen when non-biological objects (e.g. toys) start to blur the boundary further between the real and the unreal? What happens when synthetic pre-school toys start to realistically imitate many of the characteristics that were previously the sole domain of organic human beings?

For example, would it be appropriate for a child to form a stronger relationship with a phone than a parent? What happens when teens form stronger relationships with inanimate objects that are pretending to be living things? What happens to social skills when young adults spend more time alone with digital friends than with real people? Perhaps such activities will lead to a slow decline in the understanding of broad context? Or perhaps relationships using digital technology will reduce tolerance of others in the real world. Probably both.

In a sleepy town in Australia, for example, there was a recent case where a 15-year-old boy was killed at school after a lunchtime dispute turned into a vicious attack. At the time of writing the precise reason for the attack remained unclear although the boy’s mother did make a rather telling remark: “It’s like they feel less somehow. They’re so hooked on machines and gadgets and electronic games that it’s diminished their ability to interact with other people.”

The Suite Life (Or – how the other half thinks).

I just got upgraded from economy to business on Singapore airlines and it reminds me of an experience a few months ago when I somehow managed to go from business to suites without really asking. In case you are not familiar with the suites concept, this is the class that replaces/upgrades first on some routes. It features a private cabin that can be converted into a double bed and each seat has a TV screen larger than the one I have at home. I believe that the suites on Emirates airlines also have showers. Anyway, I am not telling you this to be a smartypants, it’s what happens in the lounge that I think a few people might find interesting.

Instead of entering the usual hubbub of the business class lounge in Singapore airport you enter via the first class lounge and proceed past security to what can only be described as an inner sanctum. It’s huge and strangely quiet – and this is what I found so interesting. In almost all airline lounges that I’ve ever been in the pace is somewhat manic. There are people talking, people doing email on laptops and people tapping blackberries. There is a lot of ‘stuff’ going on.

In the suites lounge it was different. Nobody spoke. Nobody was on a laptop. Nobody had a Blackberry out. People seemed to be just reading newspapers and thinking. I suppose it could just be that the people that are usually in these lounges (Latin American dictators, Russian oligarchs, David Beckham, Kyle etc) have people to do email for them. Oh, and the service (whisper quiet) was bordering on the telepathic and the whole place smelt of money. Anyway, it was bizarre and rather wonderful (I wish I had taken someone with me to see it kind of way). Andrew and Ellen, I know you are reading this and I’m really sorry, OK?

BTW, if you are wondering about the onboard experience that was pretty extraordinary too. I rather wished that each cabin had a short CV of the person resident inside, but alas no. The attendants seemed to know quite a bit about who everyone except me was (maybe it was my teeth or the stench of debt that put them off?). All I can tell you is that most of the other passengers were alone (what a waste of a double bed at 39,000 feet!) and most had perfectly white teeth and deep suntans.

Me? I just bounced around like a kid that had somehow talked their way into a sweet shop after hours and had been told they could have as many sweets as they could stuff in the pockets of their short, ink-stained, trousers.

Is the internet really 5,000 days old?

Hello lovely readers. Can I pick your brains? When Kevin Kelly says the internet is 5,000 days old does he mean the web? Is there a significant difference?

Nightmare here. I’m in a tower built in 1720 in the middle of an English wood. The mobile doesn’t work and the nearest internet connection is wi-fi in McDonalds 20-mins drive away. I’d ask for a reply on a postcard but there’s no postbox either.

PS – I bought a vodafone ‘dongle’ (mobile internet thingy) but it doesn’t work with my version of Mac OSX. I could download a new version but I can’t get on the internet (web?) without the dongle. Classic.

Too many tasks – master of none

A few years ago, Microsoft ran a campaign with the slogan ‘Where do you want to go today?’ But it turned out that this was not a question but an instruction. Sensible answers to the question might have included “Back to bed” or “Lunch” but we have started to redefine the concept of human freedom by linking it to notions of speed, convenience and mobility rather than with the old idea of acting with minimal interference from others. We have also started to view ‘things’ like documents, videos and screens as ‘places’ and we now stay awake half the night doing stuff that should have been done during the daytime. While we can do things anytime and anyplace we choose, perhaps the quality of what we are doing, and the quality of our relationships with other people, is suffering.

We have been seduced by another idea too. The explosion of global connectivity over the last decade or so can be liberating but has come at the expense of local and physical interactions. This, in a nutshell, is the Faustian bargain we have struck with digital technology. We are free to work at home. We are free to juggle various electronic devices and personas. We are free to do anything we want in our wired 24/7 world. But in doing so we have started to chip away at our souls. The cold logic of computers has taken the warmth out of human conversation and relationships. We have built machines that allow us to do several things at once but we are becoming clinical, efficient and machine-like ourselves.