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Emerging Technology: Subs and Roses

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Chris Vallance | 17:20 UK time, Monday, 26 March 2007

The E-tech Emerging Technology conference is on in San Diego. I like San Diego, if you walk down to the waterfront a few blocks from where the conference is taking place you come across the Maritime Museum. At the same quay rests HMS Rose, a perfect replica of an 18thC English frigate, and crouching behind her a cold war era Soviet diesel attack submarine. In few hundred feet technological time is telescoped, and centuries of emerging technology are clearly displayed.

But not everything has changed as profoundly as naval warfare. Social relations evolve more slowly. The relationship between Captain and crew hasn't changed that much, the skills of leadership haven't altered as radically as the ships.

Until now. As one of the conference themes says "the future's here it just isn't evenly distributed yet" The web is challenging existing social connections, the way we define our communities - we have a new generation that meets friends not just in the playground but via text message and in Bebo or Habbo Hotel. The following generations may relate to one another very differently from the way their parents have.

No Twitter group is an Island

scillies.jpgSo how will our new connected lives change us and change society? I think that's one of the most important questions facing those who think about the web. One of the keynote speakers here Charles Armstrong of Trampoline Systems, who you'll hear on Pods and Blogs has an interesting take on things. His career in social media began with studying how the people of the tiny island of St Agnes in the Isles of Scilly (population 80) communicated and shared information. He observed that the rules governing sharing information among the islanders reveal a great deal about our behaviour in the online world. One of the rules Charles observed was the importance of context: we happily share information with our work colleagues, but might be concerned if they then went into the pub and shouted everything we'd said to the assembled drinkers.

What I find fascinating is that we assume the web participates in these unwritten rules of gossip. But of course the web doesn't care about social mores, so people sharing very personal info with friends, often fail to realise that thanks to the net they are also shouting that info into a vast lounge bar at which bosses, wives and prospective employers are regular drinkers . As an example I remember receiving a Twitter from someone concerned that twitter chats were coming up in Google, but surely we knew that would happen, didn't we?

The new Social Media are forcing us to think about how we communicate. Either we change the web or we change the way we relate to people online, unfortunately both have huge inertia. Listen to Pods and Blogs tonight to find out what Charles thinks about some of these issues.


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