maandag 8 maart 2010
Ask yourself, on average how far is your mobile phone from your body?
It's difficult to talk about society nowadays and not mention Information Communication Technology and social media. Even Queen Beatrix during her Kerstrede 2009 remarked on how she perceived technology was individualizing society. Her statement expresses a perspective that technology can actually influence behavior and culture. Such a perspective could imply that society is malleable by technological intervention. Then again, was a society ever a fixed state of being? Since emergence is a natural state of being, lets explore how the proliferation of social media networks and the ever increasing computer power of mobile devices will influence society.
What kinds of changes are in store for us thanks to social media networks and mobile phones:
A phenomenon that throws demographics out [of] the window. It means exactly what it says, age doesn't matter. Rather, it puts emphasis on your lifestyle choices and 'tribal' behavior. There are quite a few factors involved to be able to suggest we might be moving into an ageless society. They include health, wealth and access to information. For one, humans are living longer, healthier and wealthier. Lets not forget vergrijzing majorly affects North America, Europe, Japan and China. So when the wealthiest populations are also the oldest they don't want to be seen as old, hence avoiding the demographic stereotypes. They rather categorize themselves in terms of consumption habits and lifestyle choices. At the same time the youth today is growing up in a time of prosperity with access to worlds of information at their finger tips. We all have access to information and the fact that information doesn't discriminate on age means that 8 year olds and 80 year olds might find themselves having common reference points. Especially if we consider that human contact is increasingly mediated by a digital layer either by email, sms, chat, video conference or augmented reality. Have a look at Linkedin and Facebook statistics, and you'll find that the average person is logged in about an hour a day to social media networks. Facebook alone has 350 million users plus another 55 million on linkedIn, and yes they are going mobile.
Will be as common as writing an email in the near future. In short, AR is a mobile application that triangulates information on the web with GPS, the compass and the video camera. What this effectively can do is layer information posted on the web over your physical experience. Layar and Wikitude are free AR apps you can download to your smart phone right now. Having such an app on your phone means you can get tagged information from geo-locations like opening times and web pages. You can also follow twitter messages, just pluck them out of the air, see who sent it and from where. The Nederlandse Architecture Institute has an app that shows you a street view from the past, like 1890, and also street views that showcase architectural plans of buildings yet to come like the new Market Hall in Blaak, Rotterdam. AR also has massive implications for technique, take for example BMW's AR glasses that once on, lead you step by step with audio visual instructions on how to repair the engine. Literally the nuts and bolts are highlighted and voice guides you through the process, check it out on you tube. What happens to society when people can put on the right glasses and become proficient in a technique they never did before?
What does it mean for our society if the vast amounts of information online can be layered and filtered on demand with our mobile devices? In terms of social media, all those millions of Facebook and Linkedin users may choose to have their profiles and updates floating around them with an AR app on the smart phone. I don't believe that communication technology is a substitute for face to face interaction, but rather will stimulate it. It will create more opportunities to trade, barter and find like minded people. Ironically that may make life a bit boring if you're always guided by your preferences, but then who says you can't make another profile or two or three. With the touch of a button I could change from an ICT creative working in the WTC with AR links to sushi bars and the Mac store to a punker who has a star floating over all the buildings with illegal parties going on underground.
What may arise is a digital divide between those who are constantly logged in and those who are not. Or a divide between exclusive networks and filters keeping people in the know. But whoever thinks that society isn't going to increasingly intertwine with ICT needs only to look at Africa and their explosion of mobile use. Or even closer to home, when was the last time your mobile phone was more that 10 meters from your body? We may not all be using AR regularly this year but we will be online and there will be a device near us. These are the first steps towards a cybernetic organism; cyborg.
It seems alien now, but I bet in the next decade people will be asking to be implanted with RFID tags. Medical records, passports, security access and even as banal as brand loyalty schemes. I mean if you're already implanted why not put all of your credit cards, bonus cards and membership cards on it. Radio Frequency Identification Technology has been around since the 1940's and is already integrated into supply chains by the U.S. Department of Defense and Wal-Mart. And yes, they are already being embedded into people. Already in 2004 Barcelona clubbers at the VIP Baja Beach Club voluntarily got themselves chipped. A tiny 1 mm glass capsule with their account information was injected just under the skin giving them access to the VIP and area and hands free payments on the bar.
Let's face it, it's not that bad being a cyborg if it increases my human condition with the stimulation of our senses, love, camaraderie and the host of emotions good and bad. The technology in itself is helpful and neutral. What we need to really watch out for is human intervention. Hackers, security issues, invasion of privacy and what ever mass controlling darkness our minds can come up with and so cleanly apply to technology. What's out there in our cybernetic society? Will legislation be for or against? If we consider the Netherlands we might say pro cyborg considering the pioneering role Schiphol Group has made in biometric passport controls that lead European and world standards. On the intrusive side of security the American Homeland Security Act has a plethora of programs that will fill your google search results in a hurry. Who will monitor the monitors?
In a scenario axis we can map out four future contexts for our increasingly cyborg like society. A noticeable issue will be visibility which is placed on the vertical axis. Visibility measures the appearance of the ICT gadgets themselves and the manifestation of people activity. Will we see the technology be on us and in the streets in the form of hand held devices and public infrastructure. Or will technology go under our skin, wireless, kinetic and in contact lenses. An in terms of social networks / media will there be reasons to remain hidden and exclusive; or will ICT bring a return of the Forum Romani?
The horizontal axis will measure the governments role or lack there of in the evolution of cyborg society. A weak role means that the commercial sector will be developing the legacy of the cyborg, thus consumer oriented. On the far right where government takes a leading role and perhaps monopolizes certain aspects of the technology because they simply own the satellites and rig the legislation we could see gross infringements on privacy and a deep consolidation of global systems like police records, immigration, banking and anything they might feel like calling a threat to national security. Terrorists, from their perspective, might become social media networks that oppose unbridled monitoring.