What I find ironic in this movie-like role reversal is that we as a nation have spent the last six-months debating the surveillance practices of our government when, from Hayden’s example, the person next to you on the train can just as effectively survey you, too. That may seem like a hasty conclusion, but it’s true.
Take for instance the most recent real-world interaction to be live-tweeted to anyone interested and with access to the Internet. Elan Gale, producer of ABC’s The Bachelor, was not pleased with a disgruntled passenger on his Thanksgiving Day flight. I’ll let you dive into the hilarious details if you like, but in short the woman was letting all those in earshot know of her frustration with the flight’s delay and its subsequent effect on her Thanksgiving Day plans. Gale, with a twitter following of 30,000 at the time (now over 170,000), decided to pass her a note and let his twitter followers follow along as he and the woman went back and forth in an increasingly heated discussion that ended with Gale being slapped in the face.
What is most striking here is the idea that a person, while anonymous, was unknowingly being surveyed and broadcast to a potential worldwide audience without her ever knowing. Regardless of whether her actions were inappropriate, the point is that she never knew that her manners and interactions with the fellow passenger were going any further than the pressurized cabin of the plane.
Data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project indicates that 61 percent of Americans own a smartphone. This means that everyday more Americans are connected to the Internet and its online communities, as well as connected to each other. It also means a (rapidly) growing majority of Americans have a voice recorder, camera, video camera and self-publishing tool right in their pocket.
These connected and record-keeping features of the smartphone have mainly been used to document life’s experiences with pictures on Instagram and Facebook, or anecdotes on Twitter. Online sharing is continuing to grow as more people join social networks and smartphones becomes ubiquitous. At the same time, we are entering into an unknown environment of 24-7 surveillance whereby anyone close enough to see or hear us with a smartphone can record and disseminate the details of our words and actions.
As a country, Americans have traditionally expressed fear of being watched in the privacy of their own homes or in the digital space of password protected email accounts. While bombshell news of the Edward Snowden and NSA leak have escalated these fears of government surveillance to all new highs, the Hayden and Gale instances showcase a whole different level of prying eyes into everyday interpersonal communication.
However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. As more people carry smartphones and are able to photograph and live-tweet the things they see, they’re also broadcasting troves of information about themselves that include, but are not limited to data about their location, communications with others and documentation of everyday experiences. This type of data provides an unprecedented level of tracking and as Politco details, opens up a Pandora’s box of legal implications.
I’ve always acted on the belief that if I do nothing wrong then I have nothing to hide. That has not changed, but it is in some ways turned on its head when any person in a restaurant can listen, record and broadcast my conversation within minutes without me ever being the wiser. We truly live in a connected world where digital sharing has quickly become the norm. We now need to adjust to a world in which any sharing, digital or unknowingly to the person behind you on a plane, is fodder to be collected, interpreted and disseminated in ways that are out of your control. Today, more than ever, someone really is always listening — and tweeting.
Unlike some folks, I'm not reflexively opposed to major Facebook changes. Oftentimes, when the service switches things around — which it does more or less continuously — I find the new version to be an improvement. Or at least I understand what it's trying to do.
But a few weeks ago, Facebook switched things up in a way that briefly left me wondering if I was going prematurely senile.
Bill Clinton and Warren Buffett joined Twitter within days of each other, creating a #FollowFriday opportunity so epic that even President Obama couldn’t help but join in.
So who's next? The social network has been, on balance, a PR blessing for many public figures who want to connect directly (See: Murdoch, Rupert). But the unfiltered nature of Twitter has its downsides (See: Weiner, Anthony), something some celebrities have cited as their reason for avoiding social media altogether.
I recently found Findery. Which is precisely what the growing social media platform wants people to do: find things. Not as brief as Twitter and not as much of a rabbit hole as Facebook, Findery applies a layer of localization to an expansive social internet. Imagine WordPress, Instagram and Google Maps all getting together and smashing a handle of vodka; one thing leads to another and the next morning a disheveled Google Maps is at the local CVS surveying the pregnancy test aisle. That baby would be unique, and it would be named Findery.
Founded by Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake, Findery asks its users to leave and find notes at places around the world. These notes can be anything: photos, poems, blogs, questions, anecdotes, drawings, facts, musings, lists, observations and much more. Unlike Twitter where people are connected by followers and Facebook, which is about friends, Findery is about physical places, locations and communities, and the knowledge and personal experiences that define them.
Example: I proposed to my fiancé at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Naturally, the hotel will remain a very special place for us. I posted a status update on Facebook, naming the Fairmont as the location of my perspiring, stuttering proposal. But listing the location on Facebook is like writing it on a piece of paper and posting it on a pegboard at the local bar. Then, after two days, taking that piece of paper down and filing it away in a drawer.
Leaving a note on Findery is different. I left a note at the Fairmont and from now on anyone that visits the hotel can find my note. To continue the metaphor, whereas my Facebook post was up for a couple days in the bar and is now gone, this is like my digital life’s historic registry of places just came and hammered a bronze plaque to the entrance of the building.
But if I were not leaving a note, when would I use Findery? There are some instances that I can envision. Maybe I am exploring a new city and stop to grab a beer at a dive bar in an old part of town. I open up Findery on my iPhone and check out the notes in the neighborhood. I would imagine some notes would mirror Yelp or Foursquare: “They have tall-cans of PBR here, but the bathroom door doesn’t lock so hide your junk!” However, another note I find may mention that the hotel across the street once hosted Princess Diana. Or, a Findery user living in the area might have left a note that the bar I am in is where Lindsay Lohan drinks during rehab. Interesting!
This function of living knowledge and experiences collated by location is unique and serves a purpose. People are bored – if not simply exhausted – by the Internet’s size. They want the Internet to focus on their location, which thanks to mobile phones, is always changing. Instead of wondering what is out there, they say, “I am here. Everyone look at me!” Findery understands and wants to serve this growing market.
The biggest question here is whether Findery is compelling enough to make users want to return? A lot. If watching Facebook and Twitter come of age tells us one thing it is that a successful social network needs users to visit, often, over and over and over. And every time they visit they need to tell someone about it. Essentially, you need to create digital cocaine.
Findery has an interesting product that people will want to check out. They will test it, see how it works, but I am not so sure they will be hooked. Findery is a leisurely experience, something for a lazy weekend on a rainy day. I can’t imagine waking up in the morning and grabbing my phone to check Findery the same way I fiendishly check Twitter.
But maybe Findery is a wild child and doesn’t want to be like (or the size) of Twitter or Facebook. Maybe Findery believes that a smaller, more engaged audience is just as strong as one that is larger, yet detached. After all, location is a relatively new dimension of the Internet and we cannot be sure how people will choose to interact with and use it (hello, Google Glass and augmented reality). The company should observe, collect data and develop its platform to match the habits of its users. If Findery was the result of a wild night between digital juggernauts, then this is like the first impressions in high school. Perceptions matter. Of course, Findery could get roofied and knocked up at a party in Silicon Valley, too. Only time will tell.
Great article in the New Yorker today. In the aftermath of the Boston bombings, Matt Buchanan discusses the role of social media in our daily lives, asking what our digital record says about us, and more importantly, what it doesn’t say. Buchanan analyzes the social media profiles of the Tsarnaev brothers looking for clues. He finds hints of the acts of terror that were yet to come as well as common banality. He concludes that our digital life is only as revealing as we allow it to be. (The New Yorker)
Dreams really do come true, last night I dreamt I was eating a cheeseburger and in the afternoon today, guess what I was eating…—
Jahar (@J_tsar) April 12, 2013
Last week, 56% of Americans aged 18-29 kept up on the breaking news in Boston via social networks, with 79% overall saying they tracked the story via an online digital format (social network/ online, mobile device). These and a collection of other interesting stats were just released by the Pew Research Center.
When interviewees were asked why they had selected social media to monitor the news, 18% responded that it “‘is just there’ on social networking sites, or that they are already on their computer and can’t avoid it.”
To keep this short I will just mention I find it interesting, maybe even telling, that people often remain on social networks in these instances as a default. It is as if they hear of the news at the water cooler, go to their computer to check for themselves and can’t navigate away from Facebook or Twitter (which is likely always open on a tab on their computer) because they don’t need to: the information is there, in a comfortable, known environment coming from a community they have grown to trust.
This ties in to a couple themes I have mentioned here before. The first is community, and the natural progression of Internet users to fall into online communities and not stray outside of those groups into the wider Web. The second connection is less obvious but relates to Facebook’s Home operating system. If people use their social networks on a subconscious level in these traditionally non-social networking moments, they will be especially contained if Facebook is integrated into their mobile device. For some, they will interact with the Internet almost exclusively through Facebook.
Lots of interesting research here. Take a look and please share this blog! (Pew Research Center)