Why I’m Feeling Anti-Social

I was close to stopping the blog last week. It was becoming increasingly obvious to me that I had nothing of real substance to say. Who really cares where I am or what I’m doing? This thought was inducing a certain level of grumpiness on my part, largely aimed at the other people that I felt were guilty of spreading inconsequential trivia – in less than 140 characters.

In short, Web 3.0 is fuelling greed for attention (validation) and I felt that I was falling into the same exhibitionist trap as everyone else. I tried to explain this to a journalist who was interviewing me about connectivity last week, but she was having none of it. The future, as far as she was concerned, was social and if you are not part of this epidemic of over-sharing you clearly have something of substance to hide.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not this post is inconsequential trivia, but I was in Oxford last week giving a talk. You don’t need to know this in a sense. It’s either me showing off or, more likely, me attempting subconsciously to offset the fact I haven’t been to Oxford. Here we go again with the exhibitionism, to some extent, but the debate I took part in did convince to me that I might be on to something important and that it wasn’t only people of a certain age – my age – that are feeling that something is not quite right in our new technological utopia.

The discussion was about whether mobile addiction, automation, networked intelligence and predictive systems are demeaning us as human beings. This was interesting in itself, but then things got even better. I picked up a couple of new books. One, which I have yet to open, is Who Owns the Future by Jaron Lanier. The other, which I’m deep into already, is Digital Vertigo by Andrew Keen.

Keen argues lucidly that the mobile internet, in particular the online personal revolution sometimes known as Web 3.0, is debasing society. Among other things, sites like Facebook and Twitter are redefining success as the ability to momentarily attract attention and are transforming friendship from a private pleasure into a profit centre. He also says that over-sharing online is a gift for authoritarian governments, but I’m less convinced by this.

The issue for me is twofold. First, the cult of social is creating a rigid orthodoxy and conformist group culture. This cannot be good. Second, we know not what we do: We are giving away huge amounts of information – our identities to some extent – in return for what? I don’t mind profit-seeking companies collecting some data if this allows them to serve me better. But I do object to companies seeking vast amounts of data – where I am, whom I know, what I buy, what I think – and then selling this data for a profit to other companies without my consent.

More on this subject soon. For now I’m offline.

5 thoughts on “Why I’m Feeling Anti-Social

  1. Umberto Eco has written much on these issues over the years, his 2008 work ‘Turning Back The Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism’ is a personal favourite & warns of this trend to exhibitionistic solitude.

    Perhaps it would make a good companion to your current reading list. 🙂

  2. “the cult of social is creating a rigid orthodoxy and conformist group culture”

    I think that was there all along, why do you think social media technologies became so popular? People love to feel part of a group, dislike “outsiders”, and love talking about themselves and gossiping. Social media just made it a lot more easier and visible. I’d say this statement would be more accurate “the cult of social is magnifying existing human tendencies to rigid orthodoxy and conformist group culture”. Gossiping was a lot more restricted when you had to talk face to face and could only have one person on the other end of a landline. That provided some control/restrictor. Now it has been let loose. That is the problem I think

  3. Don’t stop the blog. It enables your audience, who are interested in what you have to say, to keep up to date with your thoughts… because we’re interested. I actually find there’s an opposite issue to what you’re describing… there aren’t enough thought leaders in the World. Not enough people with opinions, let alone new ones. Not enough people willing to stick their head up and offer an alternative view to the crowd. Social media provides a platform for thought leaders, just like books did 25 years ago.

    I’m a bit concerned you’re referencing my tweets linking to your blog. Perhaps I’m just taking it a bit personally.

    I’ve just finished Future Vision. I’ll write a review later. Or does that just serve to prove I can read?

    As for your question “I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not this post is inconsequential trivia” – take a look at your web traffic stats and let that show empirically whether people are interested in your content or not.

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