What's the point of it all?
I've been asked this time and again by a bunch of folk ranging from London planning honchos who don't have enough time to explore web 2.0 or friends who fired off a volley of concerned emails during a patch when I'd seemingly gone underground. I will however first off make a rough and ready psychographic division because not everybody is the same when I make this case.
A narrator or writer I came across (I'm struggling to remember where) asserted that there are roughly speaking two types of people plodding around the planet at present. Cold war survivors and the ones after, lets call them Post-Coldies. This has only a little to do with age as its a mindset that can easily be absorbed from say parents and different environments. Cold war people have been bombed by mainstream media (MSM) into believing that the world is divided into good and bad, and have trouble dealing with shades of grey or the texture and subtlety between. Go easy on them because its pretty close to a brain washing experience, but in principle a generation of Soviet 'evil empire' rhetoric, contrasted with Western neoliberal capitalist propaganda as saviour of the world leaves them with a sharply divided mindset that is wholly binary and extends to extraordinary statements like communism has failed and only capitalism works. Or "isn't it great the polar caps are melting, let's consume some more refrigerated ice cream".
Cold war survivors are a guarded bunch. MSM and their parents taught them to be that way. They manage their online identity with Stalinist control, feel uncomfortable with online pictures of themselves, default to using very spy-like online monikers, never use 'include message in reply' in their emails and compartmentalize their offline lives with a strict policy of not mixing say work friends, then family, and life friends. They also tend to tell default fibs if different groups happen to enquire about each other, but they are not being malicious.
I guess they're just trying to shore up their separate offline identities that they manage in this increasingly complex and connected world. This was necessary to hold the whole cold war mentality together. People who aren't paranoid or under fear of invasion make for lousy misguided patriots so it's in the interests of the State to make sure a climate of them and us prevails. It's not completely impossible to envisage the current attempt to exchange reds-under-the bed, with the now ubiquitous terrorists of today. But that's probably another post about propaganda's resemblance to heaps of contemporary advertising that I'm saving for later.
Anyway, the point of all this social(ist) media immersion is, in my view, to drive all that online activity offline. The most rewarding experience of virtual friendships is to meet those same people in real life. I started to be convinced of this through hooking up with big chunks of the London plannersphere. But take the argument even further, and the MMORPG or video gaming community is a good example. Its not hard to see that the apex of their digital community experiences are the championships and tournaments they hold in conventions centres from Seoul to South Dakota.
Another good potential example of this might be for Last.FM to create Last.FM bars. These would be bars where the community can have a say over the music, ranging from discovery mode, to play-me-the-classics-I-love. This used to be called a Juke Box but it was quite limited.
I can think of lots more examples.
So all that anthropological primate grooming with pokes, vampire bites, blogging and twitters pretty much self actualises when we get to have something like a cup of coffee or a beer with people of a likemind. Simple isn't it?
I got thinking about this again earlier because I see that PicnicMob are trying to get a large group of people together in one city and have an online picnic. By working out what your interests are they will seat you next to someone similar. Personally I quite like meeting people who are into stuff I haven't come across but I'm sure you see my point. The irony is that the Post Coldies are pretty much trying to create, with all this social(ist) media, what the Coldies have already being doing all their lives; albeit with global reach, greater transparency, less small talk and networking at the speed of light.
Its not for everyone but I am reminded that Marshall McLuhan predicted that electronic technologies would lead us back to an oral culture.