The Line Is Blurring

In Personal Connections In The Digital Age Nancy Baym asserts the importance of mobility in technology (11). Mobility, or the ability for “person to person communication regardless of location,” is one of the seven key terms that define technology and its following innovations. Baym suggests that technology (particularly Internet technology) will improve in mobility as it advances.  Perhaps nothing has proven this theory more true than the evolution of the smart phone.

Just ten years ago less than 50% of Americans had Internet access, and those that did were bound to “clunky personal computers”  (NCBI). Today, “over 50% of U.S. American have a smart phone” with 3g or 4g Internet capability (Zuckerberg). This is a major transition, and one that demonstrates a truth about technology’s growth: it is developing at an incredible rate and is becoming increasingly integrated into our daily lives. 

Just ask CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. The San Francisco Chronicle’s “Facebook’s Future is Mobile, highlighted Zuckerberg’s dedication to expanding Facebook’s mobile platform and access. In the wake a dissapointing IPO opening and few tumultous months on Wall Street, Zuckerberg hoped to reassure investors and the public that the company knows what it is doing, mandating that its future economic growth lies in mobile technology. Zuckerberg suggested that Facebook made a mistake by “burning two years on building an HTML 5 mobile Web interface instead of building downloadable iPhone and Android native apps.” Facebook has vowed a renewed focus on Mobile Apps and has partnered with Apple by fully integrating the Facebook mobile application into the new iPhone 5. 

But what is truly noteworthy about the recent events at the Facebook corporation is how it relates to Baym’s opinions on Social Discourse. In my opinion, Benny Evangelista and James Temple, the authors of “Facebook’s Future is Mobile”, consider the Facebook development as an example of Social Shaping of Technology. Many a theorists have argued over nature of technology, particularly whether it deterministic or socially constructed. Baym suggests that like with most things “the answer lies somewhere in the middle” (44). Social Shaping suggests that technology produces “affordances” and what society does with them dictates the technology’s following innovation and the effect it has on the world. 

In the case of Facebook, society has dictated that the Internet and social media technology must be accessible anywhere and everywhere. And because advertisement are more easily ignored or blocked on a desktop than a cellphone Zuckerberg’s believe they will be able to “make a lot more money than on the desktop.” This demonstrates that the market plays as much of a role as consumer opinion. Because of all this the next decade will feature a huge amount innovation of mobile technology, with improvements in apps, platforms, and most drastically, integration into the physical world. 

When Gerzof Richards suggested that “Facebook can do a lot of cross-promotions, team-ups at places like restaurants and bars”, he was only scratching the surface of mobile technology’s potential power. From Airline’s use of Mobile Apps to the actual architectural integration of digital technology (See: The Future Of Smart Glass), we should be prepared for an even greater assimilation of technology into our daily lives.

Recently highlighted in a futurist ad campaign called “A Day Made of Glass”, there is a distinct possibility in the next that 30 years the line between our digital and actual selves will dissolve altogether blending together into one big network.

 “A Day Made of Glass” suggests that soon our electronic identity will become as powerful as the physical one. Through a myriad of interconnected appliances, we will be able to use our social media “image” to shop, schedule, and connect. 

There is much innovation ahead, but the point is that separating the public and private social media sphere will soon be an extremely difficult task. It is conceivable that someday Facebook could have as much use in day to day life as your California ID. Soon companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook will be vying for you to use their services as a sort of mobile credit account. What if Facebook became a 3rd party retailer? Glimpse something cool on the newsfeed, spend some Facebook bucks, and it is at your door tomorrow.

And why not? Making purchases with just your phone has already arrived. What’s to stop these social media sites (which all ready have profound power in our lives) from growing even more important?

And then of course, the question comes: when will the government become involved? Will they issue a mandated U.S. Facebook? A system of online identification that is controlled by the government? Could it grow to a global scale?

Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear that his greatest personal and professional aspiration is to “connect the world”. Social media’s most prominent affordance is undeniably connecting people. Through the online network, global tribalism is beginning take effect. Geographical distance no longer affects the spread of information and with an increased on mobile technology, instant communication and the power of Internet profiles and organization are only growing.

If Zuckerberg’s mission is to connect the world digitally, it is natural to consider the importance of digital profiles paramount. Social media is getting so popular and so innovative that a scene out of the film Gamer (:55-2:45) doesn’t seem too far from the future.

All in all, these articles demonstrated the profound influence that technology has in this world. Networking has an incredible array uses: political, educational, philanthropic, economic you name it. With all these affordances, you can be sure that there will much change ahead.

It is a murky future with questions of control, privacy, and corporate competition. What society should never forget, however, is that though technology may provide incredible affordances, humanity dictates how we use them. Social media is a public tool. From it we can exchange ideas, reach compromise, and define our own future. The world’s fate is not determined, just like technology, humanity has the power to use the tools we are given to create a network of peace, freedom, and unity. 

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  1. I agree that our online lives are becoming more integrated in our physical lives. It is increasingly more and more difficult to separate our online and social media selves from our physical selves. Because our world is becoming increasingly more mobile, it is even more difficult to make a clear distinction between the virtual and physical world. Although many people including Don Slater, acknowledge that there is a separation between an online and offline world and identity, I think that mobile technologies are making it harder to make this separation visible. Mobile apps and mobile medias allow us to stay connected to the digital world at all times of the day no matter where we are. So can we really make the distinction between the online and offline world? If we are so engulfed and involved with our online identities, at what point do our online and offline identities intersect and become one? Slater sees that online communication is different from physical world communication, but I think that the mobility of technology is making it a little more difficult to make this distinction between the two worlds; by being mobile, we are never really able to be in an “offline” world. As the blog post explains, with media advancements and technological innovations, the future of our lives is uncertain with regards to control, and privacy, and because our offline and online worlds are more connected with one another, the distinction between these two worlds is slowly blurring together, and as the blog states, the “line is blurring.”

  2. Mobile is the next (or current) technological shift in society. Consumers are increasingly using their smartphones and tablets as a primary device for search. A more personalized mobile search experience will be sought out. In realistic terms, “mobile search…can predict what users are looking for based on their time, location, personal preferences and actions” says, engineer Eric Mugnier, VP of M&C Saatchi Mobile. He says, “Social is mobile.” All mobile devices are integrating with Facebook and Twitter. In fact, social media platforms fix their mobile sites to create a better experience for users and advertisers. Recently, Zuckerberg spoke at Techcrunch Disrupt conference suggesting that Facebook may build its own search engine competing with Yahoo and Google. Consequently, if Facebook develops a search engine the line between our physical and online persona will continue to blur. Don Slater argues that our online and offline identity are different. However, mobile technologies exploit online identities and influence physical actions. For example, if Facebook develops a search engine, a shoe advertisement could appear on my phone directed from my Facebook information. Thus influencing me to physically purchase shoes based on my online expressions.

  3. I really like this article. It is something I have been thinking about as well (any surprise?) and wondering about for the future. It is really crazy to think how much emphasis is put on social networking sites, apps, and just staying “connected” in general. Almost everything is now being integrated, and even with the new iPhones being pre-loaded with Facebook, and now Instagram, it seems that there is no escaping. Like Zuckerberg, I also believe that mobile technology will be the new emphasis when it comes to technology and business. Just think, we used to use desktop computers, then laptops, and now even laptops are being replaced with ipads or smartphones. Why lug around a now (seemingly “burdening”) laptop, when you could do almost everything it does on your smartphone? Essentially, smartphones ARE computers, just smaller. Who knows what the future will bring, if technology will get ever smaller and even more integrated into our lives, if such a thing is possible. I am excited though, hoping that whatever does come in the future ends a positive result, as it is not uncommon for some to think of our increasingly connected and technological society as a curse, not a blessing.

  4. Your post is very thoughtful and well written. The “blurring line” is a nice way to explain the blending future of the physical and the virtual. I remember last semester when Tech journalists Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg attended the first NYU Inside the Internet Garage interview series, Swisher was asked what is the internet going to be like in the future. She answered with the simplest yet most thought-invoking word, “invisible”. I think it is similar to what you are trying to say here. The mobility of mobile phones brings the virtual internet world and the physical world together. And mobile apps, to some extent, are like secretaries hired for us 24/7.

    The introduction of smartphones into the realm of internet is the first step of us mankind marching towards the world where the internet can be accessed anywhere, the using of internet is EVERYWHERE that it becomes INVISIBLE. Or should we use the term we learned in class to say this? “Domestication of internet” – something our future generation will take it for granted.

    The 3-D physical world we have now is thus completed with another “virtual dimension” – the Internet. A future 4-D world… what would that be like I wonder?

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