Monday, September 8, 2008

Ambient Awareness Extends to Occasional Acquaintances

On Saturday, Louis Gray shared a post from Inside Facebook that discussed "ambient awareness," and itself links to a piece by Clive Thompson in the New York Times Magazine. Here's a portion of that article:

In essence, Facebook users didn’t think they wanted constant, up-to-the-minute updates on what other people are doing. Yet when they experienced this sort of omnipresent knowledge, they found it intriguing and addictive. Why?

Social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it “ambient awareness.” It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye.

However, the article appears to focus on people who are constantly in online contact with each other. Despite my seemingly pervasive presence online, I can't honestly say that I'm constantly in online contact with anyone; things go in spurts. Yet even with this, I still see the pictures of Sarah and Matthew, for example. (Sarah and Matthew are Louis Gray's kids, if you haven't heard.) (Louis Gray is a marketer who also spends a lot of personal time online, if you haven't heard.)

I probably see Louis Gray's writings almost every day. But it's more interesting to consider how "ambient awareness" affects our reactions to people that we "see" only occasionally, or in passing. Let me cite two examples.

I know next to nothing about Baard Overgaard Hansen. Until a couple of minutes ago, I wasn't even officially following him on FriendFeed; he was a "friend of a friend." But I do know one important thing about him: his daughter is a good cook.

Unfortunately, you also hear about the sad with the good. I follow the feed of the KChristieH Blog, but was saddened to read the post that she wrote early on September 8, My dog is gone. (Warning: the post includes cute dog pictures.)

So you pick up the good and the bad from people that you hardly know, even in an online way. Sometimes this just results in little things (Yolanda's kind remarks), and sometimes it results in big things (the Frozen Pea Fund). But they're all valuable.

And if KChristieH holds a wake for her dog, I hope Baard's daughter can fry the bacon.

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