Shared Vision or “Wasted Face?”

[August 27, 2010]

The appeal of sharing photos, video, mp3s or website faves comes from a basic impulse to connect. Sent and received spontaneously, it’s the equivalent of the quick wave across a crowded supermarket, the “just checking in” call or the abbreviated hieroglyphs of SMS-ese. It is, for a wide swath of the population, the main reason they enter digital space and why they find it hard to leave for an increasingly nebulous real world.

Yet when every major news service, political action group or cause has staked out a plot of leptonic real estate, there’s less need every day to de-virtualize your perception of the world. As with the person I saw in an elevator yesterday with a smart phone in each hand, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest “the world” is being replaced by “the screen.”

What this adds up to is a permanent change in our definition of civilization and perhaps of humanity itself. Like it or not, the incursion of digital space into every aspect of our lives doesn’t have the feel of a passing fad. It’s a structural change that will see its first culmination in the development of true artificial intelligence

At that point, one-on-one interaction with data streams will reach a peak of customization and personalization. “What do I want to know?” you’ll ask, and a metadigital brain stem will tell you—based, at least nominally, on your stated preferences.

Disposable or sustainable?
Given that, there’s a certain irony in the current state of digital space, especially in terms of how it shapes and manages shared content. Five years after Facebook, uploaded material still sits in the equivalent of an offline landfill: uncatalogued, uncross-referenced and unregarded by those outside the intended inner circle.

Failing a randomized Stumble, or Googlian metatag malfunction, there it sits. Privacy issues aside, and not to minimize them, it seems like a colossal waste. 

Take, for example, Toyota’s Facebook presence. As of 8-26-10, it’s dominated by an agreeably cute campaign, encouraging fans to share their “Auto-biography,” the story of their experiences in and around the world’s most recalled car. The stories are engaging enough on their own, but taken together, they’re part of a bigger message about the American experience. 

Trouble is, this message buried under layers of access: Sign on to Facebook, find the Toyota page and, of course, own a Toyota since, without membership in that inner circle, you’d never think to listen in.

Message in a bottle, bottle in a landfill. 
Yet it’s a message we need to hear, to work out the next phase of our cultural evolution—as we move from a society oriented toward nature to a society oriented toward technology. While it might seemed that process is complete, I argue that our frame of reference is still deeply rooted in nature. Think about this the next time you call someone a “pig,” a “cougar,” or a “mall rat.”

As a culture, we’re in a state of transition that’s badly stalled. The resolution of this identity crisis, as worldview gives way to screenview, can only come from understanding how it changes our definition of ourselves. The seismic anxiety this has caused in the collective unconscious is reflected in our frantic embrace of electronic sharing.

People are searching for guideposts, asking for consensus, demanding to be noticed, praying they won’t be drowned out by the cultural tsunami on the shoreline. The longer this cumulative message stays indecipherable, the longer we’ll be stuck between two cultures. 

Living in the “hear and know.”
As I see it, how we manage this extraordinary outpouring of aspirational, visionary, emotional and intellectual energy will determine the course of our cultural evolution. So far, the landfill-warehousing model isn’t working: vital information is being lost or ignored. 

At the very least, I believe, we need to do more to integrate the output of shared content into the ground plans of every website, “webvertorial” or any other form of distributed content. Are we creating content that’s sharable? Are we speaking fluent “Share-lish,” that highly layered language of text, still- and moving-images? 

Now, I’m the last person to say text alone doesn’t communicate. But to engage and maximize the positive impact that shared content can have on our future as a culture, any web presence with more than one content module needs to merge with moving traffic that—come what may—is taking us into a new realm of consciousness.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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