Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Everything is connected to something and someone else; the age of ultra connectivity

We're now more interlinked than ever, with the swipe of a phone or the click of a mouse allowing us to see, hear and hence speak to each other ANYWHERE in the world at any given moment; quite literally, on a whim. Does this mean we can solve more problems faster, better and more easily? More importantly, do we now have a better understanding of each other, in a global context? 

Getting older usually means getting wiser. Invariably some things never change as rapidly or at all, but it’s a given yet unknown quantity, that innovation, progress and change are an inevitability of life. Either you embrace change, or in some way or fashion you’ll feel a little sidelined and confused at the rapid pace at which the future arrives at your doorstep. Or so it seems.

For all the rapidity with which new levels of innovative uncertainty is thrown at us in a maelstrom of sound,  smell, colour, texture and  even taste on a near daily basis, it’s also a relief to know and understand that there are constants in our daily lives. The sky is always in the same place, our parents , friends, siblings et al are also mostly people that aren’t as transitory as a bullet train.

And as you get older, you can end up realising other things with pristine clarity; the most obvious being that nearly everything is connected to everything and everyone else by a marginal degree of separation.

The most obvious example, lies within our social circle. The classic “friend of a friend” concept which is better known as the six degrees of seperation, was coined by the Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy, almost 100 years ago, in a short story he wrote called 'Chains'.

In effect, this refers to the idea that everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person on Earth.  There have been various iterations of this theory, with a more recent (ish) one being a play on words called 'Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon' with the obvious intent of illustrating how everyone in Hollywood is supposedly connected to the aforementioned actor, by six identifiable people ( the steps in question).  On a more readily relatable note, the social networking website Facebook is a far more obvious modern day iteration of this concept.

If you have a facebook account, and have 6 friends or more, note how many different people come up in the “people you may know” suggestion box. If you selected every suggestion and carried on in this vein, you may eventually be able to propagate to everyone else on there.

Think about it. That’s only 6 steps away from over a billion other people with accounts on there; that's six billion ways to communicate and find out about each other.

The six degrees of kevin bacon, is a humourous way to illustrate the 6 degrees concept

All in all, it’s mostly great to feel so connected, as it rekindles our innate need to connect with society, with the added emphasis of  belonging to something or  grouping together, even if in a seemingly superficial manner;  after all, we want and need to feel  recognised, loved and accepted at some level. Furthermore, in our communication oriented world, it becomes far easier than before to spread a message quicker and hence cheaper than ever before, using the standardised methods of communication that have prevailed for centuries.

But there is a slight downside here, too. What about those, for instance, who need to innovate and want to prevent early leakage of their “eureka moment”? What about those whose livelihoods depend upon the next version of a product or service being kept under wraps for as long as possible, from the same sort of “leak out” ?

More importantly, think of the effect on all our personal lives, when literally anything and everything we say on the world wide web, can be held up to scrutiny like never before.  Can this level of connectivity prevent rather than propagate such behaviours and effects? In order to answer this, the behavioural changes in the real world due to all this expansive interconnectivity, need to be looked at a little more closely.

Think of how an entire generation has a social skill that my generation (and older), doesn’t take for granted. That is, to talk to complete strangers via social networking sites, and to then extend that cyber-relationship into the real world with remarkable fluidity and linearity and the minimum of fuss. This has even extended to dating and matrimonial sites, where if you scour them long enough, you are guaranteed to find someone you’ve either already dated or been in a relationship with, or at the very least know or are acquainted with via ( ironically), the six degrees of separation concept.

It's as if  the world has shrunk into the palm of our hands with the aid of modern technology and we can see , hear and say what we want ,to whomever we want, within some justifiable reasoning and/or logic.

The six degrees of seperation is more prevalent than ever, due to modern technology

So in order to deal with what an older generation would probably have deemed an irreversible carving into the invasion of privacy en masse, there has been a gradual but noticeable self re-education of sociological and psychological norms. In effect, we’re all becoming participants in a huge cross-pollinated, self-regulating diary, where those of us who use social networking sites are systematically listing our lives in the form of sound bites and events that happen.

And all of this is for the world at large to potentially see, hear and read. Most people who use social networking sites ( including myself), are probably well versed in auto-censoring themselves without too much thought.  This in itself isn’t a bad thing per se, as we all understand and hopefully accept the various levels of sociological etiquette, in order to get along together and share our experiences and lives too.

However, it’s not just learning and/or realising that behind any number of identities real and imagined, there are actual people responding and engaging. It is also about the awareness of a newer, faster, near Boolean logic-style of cognitive operation. In other words, “what would happen if then i should/should not...” becomes the instinctive response. And as this increases in frequency,  the time to think through a reply and then respond, for example, becomes near instantaneous.

Just as in the physical world we inhabit, this “world within a world” also carries some level of consequence for response and activities taken and participated in. For every person out there constructively using the internet and all the tools inherent within, in order to succeed or progress in some objective or subjective direction, there is also the darker side to internet use.

“Trolling” for example, which is a form of internet stalking which is tantamount to verbal abuse and unacceptable behaviour, has resulted in chargeable arrests , thereby mirroring the consequences of similar actions in the physical world we live in. 

"trolling" or cyber harrasment and bullying, is the unpleasant side of internet use.

It’s ironic that organisations and governments are berated for censorship, when we all at some level auto- censor ourselves when communicating, for the aforementioned reasons given and ultimately to avoid social faux pas and subsequent ostracising.

Witness how so many high profile celebrities and public figures are now entering into the realms of lawsuits, because the fingers are too quick for the mind to apply the brakes to, metaphorically speakin; that's how (and why) the instantaneous nature of social media can sometimes be a weapon, rather than a tool .

But the key point here, is that it is truly up to the individual as to how they conduct themselves at large, amongst an increasing gamut of communication portals, which means it’s not too different than in the real or physical world, where effective communication skills are essential  to progress (and even survival), on a multitude of levels.

In essence, those who are better adapters of  a more instinctively rapid rhetorical ( and also pictoral, depending on the site used) expressivity on the internet, stand a much better chance of reaching into areas and becoming members of online societies in their various formations.  This would not only increase their knowledge and broaden their horizons per se, but also allow the ultimate and remarkably basic functionality that the internet (and indeed the world wide web), was originally conceived to do, in order to reach their fuller potential. After all, the world wide web and the internet were designed to share information effectively and efficiently.

Again, as in the physical world, there are portals and groups of individuals who organise this information sharing on a profit and non profit basis, in order to make sure that anyone from a novice to a heavy net user can find what they need, relatively easily. Of course, as in the physical world, there are barriers to entry and even exit, too.

To conclude, the internet, the world wide web and technological innovations such as smartphones and social networking, have made the six degrees of separation concept an absolute inevitability from here on in.

Furthermore, this has propagated into a newer level of communicative skill that a younger generation have been born into, whilst the rest of us have adapted to this open-ended sociological restructuring, with varying levels of skill and finesse. Inarguably, because we are now more aware than ever that we truly are more connected than we thought possible, it’s an opportunity to remind ourselves of the importance of understanding our inner selves, as well as knowing and understanding the world around us.

For amongst all the millions of potential friends, faces and data that is available to access, share, and collude over, there can be an overwhelming amount of “social noise”, which exists just as in the physical world.  That can lead to aimless 'net surfing', which can be both good and bad, depending on the perspective taken and timescales involved and examined.

For example, many real world workplaces either ban or limit the use of social networking sites,  due to the potential for distracting away from the productivity and workflow required for the job at hand. And others of course thrive on it, and indeed need it, as part of the workflow. It's swings and roundabouts and value is dependant upon the utilisation of the information over the course of timescales, both short and long term.

As in the real or physical world, it’s best to know what you want out of your web connectivity based experience and why, rather than be lost in the myriad of words pictures and sentences, in order to find a metaphorical place to belong to or even conquer. At the end of the day, we all belong to something, and that something is what drives us and the world around us on every level. It’s the ever present force of life or nature, and that carries on regardless of whether we actively participate in it or not.

(c) S R DHAIN ( revised & updated).

The original version of this article was available via The American Chronicle publication & website.