Jason Farman’s brief genealogy of the distrust between humans and their own inventions is a telling illustration of how special our time is. We are witnessing the adoption of new modalities of being social as the fusion of physical and digital is completed within our relationships to the internet. The capacity to pluck information from the air at will has, as Nicholas Carr notes, forced those in the information age society to consider the ramification of living with technology and coming to grips with the changes in social organization it can produce. Websites like Second Life and Gaia Online offer new ways of existing as a social being through the extension of the internet. Carr recognizes that the Net is a medium of mediums comprising textual, visual and auditory ways of accessing and decoding information that are different from the unitary communications channels of the television. The ability to interact and ‘be social’ through the digital medium is aided by the introduction of a dialogic communication loop through which users can influence each other in real time spread across the larger informational ecology of the web. The potential to influence the lives, emotions and well being of users is roughly evenly distributed across information networks as users can converse and interact through social media sites.
The formation of a digital identity is aided largely by the habits of users and the algorithms within the void that track the movements of physical persons through the digital network. Largely the product of information gathering activities by commercial interests, the websites, clicks and keystrokes help define notions of persons by reducing them to an image of information that exists through the digital. The emergence of the digital self and the increasing anxiety about one’s privacy and life information recursively influences user behavior adding to the emotional and affective connection to the digital self by the physical self. The establishment of the digital self effectively augments our understandings of who we are in the face of technology. Exporting our memories to social media outlets, and the digital paper trail of blogging, emailing and posting helps define the self in terms of memory and action that is always-already accessible to other users. Our histories are more than our browser histories.
The connection between human and internet reshapes our notions of possibility opening new expectations for being social. Redefining productivity is aided by the prevalence of the physical infrastructure necessary for interaction such as smartphones and other portable devices. The possibility of reaching any one, tracking their movements and evaluating their trustworthiness is now easier through tapping portable digital infrastructure. Augmenting the possible and refining the productive allow us to place new expectations on labor, friendships and romantic relationships while we are constantly bombarded with information that needs to be sorted quickly. Glancing at your phone’s email notifications is a precursor to the urgency of the moment with each successive buzz or ping as another user reaches through the digital to touch and move the physical.
The question is how the power to move and influence the physical through the digital will be used as we discover more about our selves as social beings. What should be on everyone’s mind with each successive triumph of the techno-utopians is whether we define technology, or if technology defines us? Each time we advance into a new technological epoch, we must concern ourselves with how we should relate to each other rather than how we can relate to each other. The nuclear age brought new relationships between people and states. The digital age is bringing the same.