Sunday, September 7, 2008

ambient awareness

New York Times Magazine Article:
I'm so totally, digitally close to you

I'm aware of the irony of posting this article to my blog, and sharing it with you in a virtual medium. But reading this article nearly made my head explode, and I had to do something about it. In case you don't feel like reading it, the article is about our constant contact with people in an online world. Facebook, twitter, flikr, these are words that didn't even exist 6 years ago (besides twitter, but you get what I'm saying). The relation we have to the people who we read about on our Facebook news feeds is now being called "ambient awareness." It's this idea that we don't have to devote a lot of attention to people in order to maintain a relationship with them. I am certainly guilty of this, as I'm sure you are too (you're reading my blog, aren't you? why don't you just call me?).

In the back of my mind while reading this piece, I was thinking of a line from the movie Before Sunset, when Celine is talking about time she spent in Warsaw as a teenager and she is cut off from her habits. She says:

My brain felt like it was at rest, free from the consuming frenzy. And I have to say, it was almost like a natural high. I felt so peaceful inside, no strange urge to be somewhere else, to shop... Maybe it could have seemed like boredom at first, but it quickly became very, very soulful. It's interesting, you know?

I have to say I am longing for my brain to be at rest. While reading the article, I seriously thought about leaving facebook (gasp!) but decided against it because I don't want to lose touch with a lot of people who I wouldn't have any contact with if it weren't for facebook. But at the same time, I constantly feel the "urge to be somewhere else," and I mean constantly. The "somewhere else" changes on nearly a daily basis, but the feeling is always there. And I think that shedding all my digital crutches would certainly be helpful in resting my brain and being at peace with where I am. But, as the article points out, it is nearly impossible now to be an integrated part of society and not be part of some form of social networking. Although I certainly don't feel more connected to my friends since I joined facebook--if anything, I feel more disconnected from people in general. More solitary, but with an excess of this ambient awareness.

One thing that has been a real eye (and ear) opener recently was losing my iPod. Sure it was a tragic accident, but now when I ride the subway, I do not have one entire sense shut down. I can hear people's conversations, their breathing. I have also become much more aware of how 95% of the people who ride the subway do have headphones in their ears. What did people do before iPods? Talk? Heaven forbid.

Anyway I am curbing my desire to rant here, because I don't want this post to get absurdly long. Also there are just too many thoughts bouncing around in my head. I will just say one more thing: establishing a human connection in a natural way--meeting on a train, or striking up a conversation over a common interest--is one of the most fulfilling things I've ever experienced. And attempting to establish a relationship of any kind in a digital arena has always left me feeling unsatisfied and lonely. But in a world dominated by digital communication, how do we find other people looking to establish friendships the old fashioned way?