Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thursday at Future Web / WWW 2010

Another exciting day at the conference. Dana Boyd gave a great presentation on privacy and the social science implications of big data social networks. 

Now I'm sitting in on the social networking panel. Zeynep Tufekci says, I'm paraphrasing, "The most severe punishment short of killing someone is socially isolating them"; that cognitive ability may have developed as result of the need to maintain a mental list of friendships and alliances. It makes me wonder, is this why so many smart engineers are so inept socially?

The panel points out that before social networking, most speech was ephemeral, and disperse and disappear over time. In contrast the stuff we blog about tends to hang on, and in some cases builds increasing weight over time.

Tufekci makes another interesting point - Americans are increasingly without "close" friends. Even familial relationships aren't as high of a quality. How we gain close friends is an important question. Theories abound as to why we might not - we are spread too thin; the "non-people" who aren't good at using Web social networking, or refuse to engage in discussions using the popular tools. If you don't participate in the internet or are uncomfortable with that mode, then you are excluded and marginalized from the important social interactions. Tufekci claims that inheritance based relationships are giving way to affinity based connections.

Wayne Sutton points out that the effect may also be increased due to the existence of privileged social networks. Two people may have almost the same experience in a physical setting, yet one obtain perks that the other does not due to participation in a social networking system.

The ongoing discussion brings up stray thoughts, that social networking facilities will be the place for registering and maintaining identity certificates. They will be the interface by which our extended lives are run.

That reminds me: during this panel, and other talks, references to pop culture media abound. The MATRIX is popular, but there is also Soylent Green. I surprised that the Borg episodes of Star Trek are not mentioned, but I suppose they are too dated. A comparison that is being missed is to those Trek episodes in which some character's higher brain functions were transferred into, and eventually subsumed by, an expansive computer core. Unlike those characters, no advanced alien culture will be stepping in to decouple our kids from the mutagenic network in which they have grown entangled.

I try to ask a question, but the time for the panel has expired. I ask face to face instead: when will social networking systems expose an explicit and controllable policy for data retention? After all, forgetting is an important function for maintaining mental health. None of the systems make such accommodations.

In the afternoon, I sat in on the Core Values of the Future of the Web panel. Burners Lee can't make it. There are a few interesting bits, but my attention began to wander when Danny Weitzner runs on in his opening.  I hung tight.  The panel is dancing around subjects so vaguely that the discussion might be made of aerogel, also known as solid smoke. You know there is something there, but it is very hard to pin down just what it is.

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