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Reflection in social media

Earlier this week Dave Blanchard, a colleague of mine, asked an interesting question on Twitter:

Has social media pushed self-reflection out in favor of self-projection? Is there time for both?

Reading this made me first think of Slow Design, a movement I’ve been tracking for a few years now. It began as an offshoot of the Slow Food movement and holds similar goals of fostering deeper connections, promoting reflection, and focusing on longer time frames. A slow design is one that affords and promotes these types of behaviors. Can social media be slow?

The second thing I thought of was an episode of To The Best of Our Knowledge that I heard on NPR recently. The first segment was an interview with David Bainbridge, biologist and author of Teenagers: A Natural History, on the makeup of the teenage mind where he discussed the intensity of the brain’s growth during that time period and how it leads to an almost overwhelming level of self-reflection unlike any other time in our lives. Given this, do teenagers tend to use social media simultaneously for reflection and projection? Anecdotally, it seems like teens mix these modes more than adults. I makes me want to dig into danah boyd’s ethnographic work on teens and social media to learn more.

Finally, it reminded me of Momento, an iPhone app I’ve been enjoying “which provides a quick and easy way to record ‘moments’ throughout your day.” It is essentially a diary app with a subtle and beautiful interface design, but the twist is the way it connects to and displays your social media projections alongside your private reflections. The integration of the two is simple and straightforward; it displays Twitter posts and Flickr photos chronologically mixed with your Momento entries. The effect, however, is much more profound as it promotes additional reflection on the difference in tone and content between the private and the social.

The reason Dave’s question prompted me to make these connections, and to write this post, is that I hope social media isn’t having this effect. Obviously there are those who use it only for self promotion, but as the medium matures perhaps we will see more adaptations like Momento that build upon these platforms in new ways. Perhaps the accumulation of social media over many years will grow to naturally promote reflection as our archives mix the self-projection of today with that of a very different future self.

How free will the tablet be?

Next week Apple has a press event scheduled  and the rumor mill predicts that they’ll be launching a new product, most likely the long-fabled tablet computer. There is already plenty of speculation over what the new device might be like, but the aspect that I’m anxious to hear about is how free it is; free as in speech.

Apple has always designed closed ecosystems where you must use both their hardware and operating systems together. Without courageous and unsupported workarounds you can only run Mac OS X on your MacBook, and only use iTunes to manage the music on your iPod. On the iPhone they upped the ante, successfully controlling not only the underlying operating system and desktop component but positioning the App Store as a gatekeeper for every third party app. The iPhone is an amazing device that has changed the way I learn, communicate, and travel, but it is not very free.

In a book I’m currently reading, The Future of the Internet, and How to Stop It, Jonathan Zittrain provides a perspective on generatively in the history of computing and the internet. He is referring to the quality of a system that allows for unexpected uses to develop in an unimpeded manner, and highlights numerous examples of today’s products and services trending in the other direction. It leaves me feeling conflicted — I know firsthand as a designer that when you control all aspects of an ecosystem you have a better opportunity to provide a good user experience. Similar to the issues of privacy vs. tailored interactions I find myself acknowledging that this cohesive experience comes at a price.

Many products today go beyond restricting generatively and are actually tethered to their makers, able to phone home to tattle on their owners or install updates that restrict or remove features at the manufacturer’s whim. Examples include Tivo or the Amazon Kindle, which infuriated owners when books they had previously purchased were removed from their devices remotely.

Next week, I will be very interested to see how Apple continues their trend towards increased control. Of course I’m curious to see how big the screen is, and what kinds of gestures it will support, but I’ll be looking deeper too at what kind of relationship they are facilitating between the device and its owner. Will we be able to use it how we want? Will they support new and unexpected user innovation? How free will it be?


This weblog is now alive. Hello.

That was the text of my first post to this blog, nearly 9 years ago. I had a lot of fun with this space in the early days, but sometime around 2007 I started sharing my thoughts here less and in the last couple of years I only managed to publish a single post. I moved on to micro-updates, status notices, collections of disparate tags and bookmarks. It turns out that auto-aggregated “activity” doesn’t do a great job of sharing your experiences, your thoughts, or yourself with others. You’ll need more than 140 characters to get to know me.

So, I’m back. I’ve cleaned the place up a bit, accepted that it’s okay to just build on top of a template instead of reinventing the wheel, and wiped out the archives. Actually, they’re still around if you Google for them or had them bookmarked, but that’s due more to a strange sense of commitment to URL posterity than a desire to have them read.

I won’t be writing about a singular topic, just things that happen to interest me. If you know me, or are like me, then they may interest you too. Hopefully I can keep this thing breathing.

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