Thursday, December 07, 2006

To Your Scattered Bodies Go*

Chrystie recently posted about the report issued by the Center for the Digital Future (at the Annenberg School for Communication, which is at the University of Southern California) which is the seventh in its Digital Future Project. She noted one statistic from the report--that 43% of people who are members of online communities feel as strongly about their virtual communities as they do about their real-world ones.

Sherry Turkle's 1984 book The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit was the first book I read that suggested the computer was not an appliance but was part of ourselves--an extension of ourselves.

At the 2005 Annual meeting at OCLC CAPCON, Joel Foreman from George Mason University suggested that we computer users are already cyborgs in that our various computers are extensions of ourselves and without them we often feel as if part of us is missing.

But actually, I digress from what I set out to tell you about which is a very interesting and readable article by danah boyd, one of the stellar speakers at the OCLC Symposium at ALA Midwinter in Seattle. (danah just happens to be a Fellow at the Annenberg School.) The article is "Friends, Friendsters, and Top 8: Writing community into being on social network sites" published in the December issue of First Monday (the whole issue is well worth reading).

The editors introduce the issue with these words (which allow me to tie my ramblings here together): "Increasingly, who we are is represented by key pieces of information scattered throughout the data-intensive, networked world. Few spheres of our daily lives remain untouched by technologies of identity and identification: medical records are increasingly digitized and aggregated, loyalty cards collect shopping habits, Web cookies track online activities, electronic toll collection systems record vehicle locations, detailed user profile pages fill social networking Web sites, biometric scanners are in use at workplaces, banks, and airports. Online and off, the digitization of identity mediates our sense of self, social interactions, movements through space, and access to goods and services."

I think many librarians around my age would like to believe we are all still living in Kansas. I am becoming sure that "Kansas" stopped existing about 15 or 20 years ago and that we now live in a profoundly different place. I am not sure I buy Ray Kurzweil's idea of "The Singularity" but I agree with this from the Wikipedia entry on him: "Raymond Kurzweil states his belief that the future of humanity is being determined by an exponential expansion of knowledge, and that the very rate of the change of this exponential growth is driving our collective destiny irrespective of our narrow sightedness, clinging archaisms, or fear of change."

* The first of Philip José Farmer's Riverworld Saga series.

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