Ambient intimacy the new loneliness?

A few weeks ago I took part in the eye contact experiment in Sheffield. The purpose was to connect with a fellow human being in a way we usually avoid in modern society.

I have already wrote about the use of Mobile technology in Japan and crossed it with the selfie craze. But I have to admit although the selfie/narcissism was bad. There was a low level almost ambient undertone to the silence of people looking at rectangular LCD screen.

Japan is always known as way ahead of the curve. When most of us were still using desktops and laptops to connect the internet, residents of Japan were using their phones. Theres many other examples but I spotted something which deeply worries me. Sherry Turkle’s connected alone was playing out everywhere you went.

I was in the queue for a rollercoaster and 4 guys were standing in silence through out the whole 40-50min queue. There were each transfixed to their phones not uttering a single word till we finally got on the ride and then they were best buds, laughing and chatting away. I saw them again later (the theme park wasn’t that busy and isn’t that big – about the size of Thorpe Park) and it was more of the same.  They may have been playing the same game but together they were alone.

Alone together

Sad as it may be (you could say its part of the Japanese culture, but I’m not so sure), you are seeing more and more of this. And its not just a age thing. The online world can be very seductive and some people forget the offline world for many reasons. Maybe things are difficult there, things are not going so well, they can be somebody else?

Sounds familiar right? Some people have been calling it ambient intimacy, something I heard a lot time ago but hadn’t really stop and thought about.

I  forgot the term, which I saw as the logical conclusion of what I saw in Japan and seeing to a lesser degree here. I first wrote about it when listening to Leisa Reichelt talking at the future of webapps 2007.

This thought catalogue piece sums up quite a bit is the new loneliness

Our generation of sadness and loneliness is of the unchecked variety. Of wallowing. Of letting ourselves be disconnected from both others and ourselves. Learning to soothe more than heal. Learning to put a band-aid on problems instead of working through and solving our problems. If something is not immediate, we don’t want it, even if it’ll make us stronger. We’re not growing as people, not really. We’re shoving away “bad feelings” we don’t want to face by clicking, refreshing, scrolling until we’ve numbed ourselves out enough. It’s addiction.

I was talking to a friend recently and she was telling me about the massive effect grindr is having on the gay men of Manchester. The once vibrant gay village of canal street is now full of hen parties and hetrosexual men chasing them. The gay men so addicted to the new reality of grindr, they don’t waste time meeting/socialising down canal street, when there is a sea of faces and other parts of the body on the comfort of your screen. Of course there is human contact but its short lived, fleeting but also highly charged and very exciting.  If its not, don’t worry theres other fields to go explore and why not?

This is something I talked about during my ragged talk.

In years, decades to come will we see the ambient intimacy the same way as we see smoking now? Or if Adrian Hon is right, eating meat?

I’m confident that in a hundred years, eating meat will be regarded in the negative way we now view racism or sexism – an ugly, demeaning, and unnecessary act. Like smoking, it will simply fall out of fashion because we’ll find better and healthier alternatives, although we’ll still occasionally eat humanely reared-and-killed animals. Note that I still eat meat even though I should know better.

If there was one picture which sums up this slow backlash, it has to be this one… removed.

Removed

As the author says…

The joining of people to devices has been rapid and unalterable. The application of the personal device in daily life has made tasks take less time. Far away places and people feel closer than ever before. Despite the obvious benefits that these advances in technology have contributed to society, the social and physical implications are slowly revealing themselves.

I saw it a while ago but frank reminded me of the picture while we were talking about the eye contact event.

There was a number of talks at Thinking Digital Manchester which strayed deep into this area., including our own workshop.  Authenticity was the word of the moment. Be yourself and talk with a human voice. Something the Cluetrain Manifesto talks a lot about.

I have bounced back and forth and about this whole thing, creating many revisions (62 to be honest) and drafts of this blog post.

Part of me wonders if this is just the new reality and I’m actually just getting old?

Who couldn’t be excited by the new possibilities to be connected to many people at the same time? Jason Silva called itcollapsing geography with cellphone wormholes. However this also pulls us out of the moment (must finish reading Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock) creating physical barriers with the people we spending time with. Maybe its the intent or even the lack of intent which is the problem?

Like checking your phone at the table, your subconscious intent is that the current situation isn’t interesting enough to fully engage? Or a sign we feel strangely lonely?  The fear of missing out is a double edged sword, and is a really strong motivator in this all. Then throw in the paradox of choice and you have a recipe for long term problems. This is what I thought when I first heard the term present shock to be honest.

Mozfest Global Village

This was some of the motivation behind a short pathway of two great sessions at Mozfest 2015. Hacking Mental Health: Changing Views in Tech and Happiness in the digital era. (reminds me of  The Practice of Happiness workshop by Bobby Paterson at Thinking Digital 2011). We even ran our own eye contact experiment in the crazy space of Mozfest.

Eye contact at Mozfest Global Village

With all this playing on my mind (and the fact its a link between all the events over the last few weeks)…

I bought a copy of Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. I decided enough with the drafts, I’m putting this thought on hold for a further blog post or maybe a discussion some day?

Djing with insights

Speech bubbles at Erg

Si Lumb came up with the interesting term yesterday.

Djing with insights

Presenting strings of ideas/concepts in a non-linear method like a dj?

We had a brief chat about it today and concluded the software was the thing holding back the concept. I did suggest mindmaps but I agree its more like a making music with by live coding.

Interestingly I think the DJing with insights concept will be tested by myself during my online dating talk in November. No laptop, no slides, just me thoughts and a geeky passion for online dating.

It also reminds me of Jason Silva’s shots of awe, which is a kind of existential jazz. Not that un-similar from djing with insights or even mixing with concepts?

Jason Silva every week as he freestyles his way into the complex systems of society, technology and human existence and discusses the truth and beauty of science in a form of existential jazz

Is the future of user interface design actually, perceptive?

Jason Silva in his latest shot of awe, talks about the paradox of choice we all face with the advances in technology and increase choice. He also mentioned the fast company piece about the trend towards less choice, especially in user interface design.

Companies are catching on quickly. With the realization that data is much more valuable when used with other information, protocol is increasingly being adopted to ensure that data sharing is seamless. With the explosion of both data collection and unification, we’re creating an environment that, while not fully exposed, is at least open enough for information to be meaningfully aggregated.

Taken together in four steps—collection, unification, analysis, and implementation—we have an environment where information is working for you behind the scenes to do things automatically, all in the service of letting you focus on what’s most important to you in work and life.

I have concerns about this along with my thoughts about who/whom is writing the software and what is their opinion?

What Jason and others are talking about is contextual design or as I prefer perceptive design (along with perceptive media). As context only explains half of the solution and frankly anticipatory design sounds like when I first talked about intrusive media.  It will never find the mindshare with a name like that!

I think of Apple products as anticipatory and antihacker. I remember the blog I wrote when I saw Aral talk about user experience at Thinking Digital in 2013.

Perceptive design needs to empower people with  chances and experiences for mastery, not enslave them and ultimately make them feel trapped, lost and cut off from others.

Decoupling attention and physical proximity

Jason Silva has covered this before but this goes one step beyond.

We’re post-geographical beings, attentional proximity has been decoupled from physical proximity, collapsing geography

Attention proximity is interesting to me, especially because I have been known to be many miles away in attention from where I  physically am.

The decoupling is something which I can relate to…

Inception is a metaphor for cinema?

Abandoned Cinema

…One of the coolest ideas behind the film “Inception” is that the entire film was widely reported on the internet to be a metaphor for cinema. Cinema creates an artificial dream world and invites the audience into that dream that we then fill with our subconscious. We already have dream sharing technology. It’s called cinema.I am a story junkie and I am immersion junkie.

The dream is real…? Now that makes sense…

I had never heard this but then again at the build up of Inception, I was kinda of busy. Mind blown!

This was taken from a interview with Jason Silva. It really got me thinking while reading it on my kindle today. I specially love this reply to Why are you so fascinated about what happens to our brains when we watch movies?

Diana Slattery writes that Immersion is a “necessary precursor for any kind of interpersonal persuasion or transformation to occur”..  Janet Murray writes that we “long to be immersed” and that we “actively metabolize belief in story”… because we are effectively narrative beings.

I’m fascinated by the liminal spaces we enter when we are absorbed by cinema: that magical borderland between dreams and reality, the space of archetype, of myth, of madness and ecstasy, the landscape of the imagination, freed from the constraints of time/space/ distance.
Cinema is the realm of subjectivity. The only technology that allows us to enter the mind of another.  Cinema is cartography for the mind.   As Gene Youngblood wrote: “cinema reflects mankind’s historical drive to manifest his consciousness outside of his mind in front of his eyes”
Love it… We long to be immersed, we have always wanted to manifest our consciousness for others to be immersed in…

Computers are the new ecstasy: Transcendence

Since Imran pointed me at the trailer transcendence, ever since I’ve been thinking about the singularity.

If you don’t know what the singularity (I’m talking about the traditional sense, if there is such a thing. It gets used in many different ways)

The singularity, is a theoretical moment in time when artificial intelligence will have progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence, radically changing civilization, and perhaps human nature

Interestingly I started watching Brain Jazz with Jason Silva and Douglas Rushkoff. (Shame it doesn’t work with the Chromecast). Maybe if I was at home, I could get it working with XBMC/Plex somehow. Anyway, its interesting to watch Silva and Rushkoff wax lyrical about the singularity.

Silva loves the idea of the Singularity while Rushkoff is less interested. (7:30mins in Rushkoff roughly says – remember I’m rubbish at note taking being dyslexic)

“…We talk alot about the singularity, I get the… The singularity to me is this self loathing, anti-human, zombie apocalypse fantasy. The story they tell is the history of evolution is information its self striving to greater states of complexity. Humans are really good, Culture is really good,  been good for the last 10,000 years but now computers are better. People are only any good to help machines transcendence the next stage of evolution…”

Silva nicely replies pointing out that this isn’t a zero sum game. We may have a bias towards skinbags but AI is actual fact us if we can get over the skinbag bias.

And thats my problem with Transcendence. Its all Zero-sum, theres no room for the humans (say hello to the robots indeed), I’m deeply worried about this being clique central although (I can’t believe I’m saying this) Johnny Depp has been talking about the philosophical underpinning of the film. For me having Christopher Nolan on-board is a massive plus, but he’s not actually directing or writing it.

I guess we’ll find out in April which way it goes…

Back to Rushkoff and Silva’s mindjam.

Rushkoff point through out, is people are not learning from there experiences and then bringing it back into reality. So they create Second Life instead of changing First Life. Life should be lived to the point of tears Silva says and Rushkoff agrees, adding we’ve lost the Awe in life, this is why people seek physiological drugs/highs. But the best part of such a high is the come down, the realisation that our world is full of awe.

This is something I can relate to. I have never taken physiological drugs. Even while being surrounded by them at raves and clubs in the 90′s. I always said my life is so full of stimulation and awe, I don’t need to fill it with even more awe.

Theres plenty of great ideas and questions in the session including Rushkoff’s deconstruction of our current social networks. Lovely look at human nature and the young kids trading sweets in a traditional bazaar.

Maybe we need a Brain Jazz in Manchester? This level of conversation is something I do miss.