Thursday, March 30, 2006

It's About The People

While I was walking around SXSWInteractive, I often got the feeling of a disconnect between the community of developers, the Tech Community, and the people, or the Users. At times there seemed to be a smugness among some of the Tech folks, as if all that mattered was tech and anything "virtual." As if Users were a "less than" group because we didn't design, develop, read code, etc.

But what Users do is effectively socialize. We bring a different level of human interaction to this tech-enhanced space. We talk. We talk about a lot of stuff. We might not give one whit about the difficulties of design, but we certainly do care about being civil towards one another in this space. We are interested in how the tools are used, and if they are used in an ethical manner. We are interested in helping people be social in this space and that we treat one another with civility.

So, when I read this post on Steve Yelvington's blog, I was heartened to see another soul bravely mention that all this technology-connectedness that we have is really a "human phenomenon"--that the technology is only a facilitator for keeping social connections alive across geographical space:
Today's young people are different from their elders in many ways, and one big difference is how they connect. Most interpersonal communications among today's youth are no longer face-to-face encounters, but rather mediated through technology -- instant messaging, SMS text messaging, and that old teenage favorite, the telephone. Often it's through all of them simultaneously. And, significantly, these technologies now are generally flat-rate services, insensitive to distance.

Youth may be able to bridge the gap between tech and user quite sufficiently. But what about the rest of us?

It's odd to sit here, at 45, and to see how I negotiate this tech space. I made friends with several folks at SXSW, the same way I'd made friends with folks at other conferences. We read one another's blogs and send each other email. We occasionally phone, but not often because we're separated by lots of miles. Feeling "stranded" as I often do out here in W. Mass, these new connections made thru burgeoning technology have enriched my life and decreased that floating existentialist angst that is part and parcel of post-modern life.

We are "networking"--but it's far more than just impersonal contact-gathering. It is creating new kinds of communities based on interests rather than on geographic distance.

Yet, in some way, I understand why the tech-geeks see this world only in the sense of tech. Western dualist thinking--with its black/white, good/bad judgement structure--keeps people fixated on one thing. Tech is King. And while I'm in many ways a Western thinker, it is my Buddhist studies that help me to see the value and the "reality" of the Internet World. I can look into my screen and I can see how it is vast--that there are so many millions of bloggers spread all over the world. And I can see how it is small--that so many of us, spread out across this landscape, can know one another and be friends with one another as if we were living across town from one another.

It is like the Wild West, where our closest neighbors are miles away, but we can talk loudly and clearly to them thru tin cans with string attached.

It is Tech--and Not Tech. It is User--and Not User. This WebWorld is a space between both, and each enhance one another.

It is not either/or. It is all and every.

Just a thought.

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