In the old days (well, the pre-smartphone era prior to 2006 - remember the then cutting edge Nokia N95 introduced in 2006), you knew who else was about by using your own senses; walking the dog and waving / chatting with the neighbours, a hello to a new office colleague, a chat with another cyclist waiting at a stoplight, offering to buy a friendly stranger a drink in a bar or cafe.
How times have changed? Smartphones are now virtually ubiquitous in many countries. As I rode on the Paris Metro last week, three young people (well from my perspective, under 30s qualify as young!) were standing in the front of the first carriage - a steel wall behind and escape ladder. Each had their own smart device; none paid the slightest bit of attention to their neighbours. Actually, the Paris metro may be a special test case as mobile signals are ubiquitous above and below ground. While shouting on a mobile to be heard above the rumbling wheels and screeching rails is far more noticeable to fellow passengers, the [silent] mobile data-enabled communications of the three young people in the front were far more telling. Not a sound and not a glance. So what is it that glued these three to their own devices sparing not even a glance at each other? The rise and maturation of geo-positioning applications may be a big factor.
Social networking applications are a huge and growing commercial opportunity. The case of Grindr in particular is compelling. With a thumbnail photo and a pithy strapline, the Grindr guy (so far only G and B - L and T are yet to join the party) can locate other (presumably) bi or gay men in close proximity. Smooth, hairy, chat, dates - it’s all in the mix. And why make a bunch of phone calls to invite your friends for drinks; a quick check-in on Facebook and your friends can meet you in minutes.
So why with all of this might there be a sense of isolation? And is isolation necessarily a loss? And who am I to preach that virtual contact could somehow be inferior to face-to-face contact?
Maybe it’s all too much of an overload - too many channels - we’re getting lost in the digital maze. Second, there may be a continuing move toward creative consumption rather than production.
Perhaps we are just scratching the surface is making human connections using technology. For instance Google + claims to be a truer social network than Facebook because it leads to connections based more on shared interests rather than historical friendships.
I do think the ability to quickly chat and exchange photos with strangers can lead to some amazing interactions which are every bit as significant as a face-to-face exchange.
What do you think?
The link following is to a PC Word article. Good background introduction to geo-positioning, though there has been rapid app development since this was published.