Person-alization

Studies suggest that our brains can only really keep track of about 150 people, in terms of associating a name with a face as well as unique characteristics of personality. 

I’ve heard that before, and thought, “Pshaw, that can’t be true. I have a few hundred Facebook friends, and I know them all.” But really thinking about it, I wonder if I’m just denying an important truth. I’ve thought a bit about the fact that we now exist as two individuals: an analog self and a digital self. In some ways, I find this problematic as our selves become more and more estranged from each other, but there’s another problem here, too.

How many of our Facebook friends do we actually know as analog selves? And I don’t just mean “know them,” like met them before, or even to the point of feeling comfortable with carrying on a short conversation if we bumped into them…but really know.

And if we don’t know many of them…are we simply objectifying them if we only know their digital selves? Is that in some sense perverse? 

I’m not saying we ought to dump Facebook forever. I’m still a Facebook stalker, and I really do think the power of social media like this can be harnessed well, to promote greater goods and even just keep people in touch. But I’m wondering if I don’t need to do a massive purge in my Facebook friend list. Thoughts?

Some Interesting Stuff that Relates to Other Interesting Stuff I’ve Been Thinking About

Playing around on teh Internets this afternoon led me to a couple of things that seem relevant to other things I’ve been considering.

Firstly: how to use social media well. Here‘s an example of someone who’s doing it, I think. It’s a videobook about YouTube…on YouTube. It’s actually an interesting concept that shows the power of social media to spread good information. (And it’s reflexive, which is always cool.) I found this via the UGL Facebook page, and they’ve asked whether this is the future of the book. My answer: I hope not. I love the ways this technology is being used. But I don’t think it can replace the book. Here’s my criteria:
1. Books are easily browsable. I can flip through pages of a book, pick a place at random, and look for what I’m looking for, or see if I’ll like it, or whatever. This videobook adds features I never knew were possible to make this closer to a reality, but it’s still limited. Browsability is among the most important aspects of books and libraries to me, and I think to knowledge and information in general.
2. Books offer depth of knowledge. Although this videobook makes a complete argument from beginning to finish, compressing all of the content of a monograph into video would take far too long. Trying to squeeze one content area into another medium can compress a full thesis into sound bytes. There’s value in gaining deep understanding that, so far, comes strongly from text. And usually page-based text.

Secondly: identities are incredibly complex. This video from one of my favorite sets of vloggers also talks about using information technology well (They’ve launched Your Pants! I’ve spent some time exploring in Your Pants. You might want to find Your Pants. The stuff in Your Pants is pretty exciting.) But it also, at the end, discusses how identities, both those that we choose and those that choose us, resist simplicity. Those of us who claim certain identities, whether we’d like to claim them or not, have to live them as well. And that’s what gives them their meaning. When I claim an identity as a male, or white, or as a Nerdfighter, I don’t just fit into that box. I work with others who claim that identity, and those who claim opposing identities, to create what that means. Sometimes it means things I don’t want it to mean–that I’ve got privilege in society that excludes others, for example. But it always resists a simple definition. And that’s what makes life so exciting.

Becoming Info-Friendly

I’m becoming more wired. I guess it was unavoidable. They don’t call my (hopefully) future field library and information science for no reason. So, I’m keeping this blog, I’ve joined the Twitter-verse, and finding lots of things online that I enjoy and are actually useful.

But I’m processing all of this, too. I just got back from a brownbag discussion of a TED video about how the Net can actually help support dictatorships. The link is here. And the resulting discussion with a psychology professor and a librarian I work with led me to start thinking about what it means to be a good user of information technology.

Until recently, I’ve resisted a lot of informatics advances. (I like books. They don’t crash.) But I don’t think that’s helpful. My goal in life is (I think) to help connect people to information in ways that are socially conscious. Librarian-as-social-justice type stuff. And it’s information technology for a reason. The information comes first. And then the technology.

One thing that really struck me in the video is the Hierarchy of Cyber-needs. Modelled on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it purports that we can become self-actualized users of technology (as another TED talk-er has put it, “cyborgs”) by moving up categories of entertainment and sharing to actually becoming socially conscious users of info tech. My question is, now: How do we do it?

Don’t get me wrong. I like watching funny videos of cats sometimes. But making info tech into entertainment and cyber-sharing has done more harm than good. I like people too much to become walled-in by that. But how can I, as someone invested in the use of information technology, use it as a tool to connect people to information they need? It’s not an easy question. It’s probably the biggest question in all of LIS anymore. I don’t have the answers. But I’m glad to be joining the conversation. Even if it’s on Twitter.