I made my first visit to Defrag a few weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. I spoke on a panel about serendipitous online content and played the role of resident crank for some reason. I came just short of yelling at the audience to get off my lawn, and couldn’t put my finger on precisely why the subject made me so cranky. Until just a couple of hours ago, that is. And it ties into a concept I heard discussed during another panel at Defrag, ambient intimacy.
Ambient intimacy, coined by Leisa Reichelt last year, is the modern phenomenon of keeping in touch with people with a level of intimacy not normally possible without technology. It works on a couple of levels: there are my real-world friends, those folks I went to college and high school with, that I keep up with electronically. We exchange pictures of the kids and keep up with each others’ lives via Twitter and Facebook wall posts. And then there are people I now call friends who I have yet to meet face-to-face; I know when their kids are sick, when they’re looking for work, and what color hose they wore with their high school prom dress (an unfortunate monochrome red outfit in the last case). In many cases, I know more about both these groups of friends than my own mother. She and I email regularly and talk on the phone once a week but I don’t know what she’s feeling at a given moment, what articles she’s reading, what memes are running through her head these days.
So let me take it back for a moment to the Defrag panel, Finding Serendipitous Content Through Context. I thought the title of panel to be incongruous, that any sort of context automatically cancels out serendipity. As my fellow panelist Chris Law found, though, the dictionary definition of serendipity is “an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.” The key word there is ‘aptitude,’ which implies that some have better skill than others in stumbling upon lucky outcomes. The a-ha moment in this mess of semantics? That working to achieve serendipity shouldn’t be our goal online. In striving to discover new content, sites, tools, and connections, we can let our existing connections stagnate. The whole idea behind consumer technology, after all, is to enrich our lives; how much true benefit is there in setting up network after network, looking for the serendipitous needles in the haystack? I think that’s where my crankiness came from – that we’ve lost sight of the original intent of technology. We’re having discussions about finding even more content online when most people can’t figure out how to absorb their current influx of content.
Honest show of hands here: how many of you feel you have a manageable handle on your content influx? Come on, really? Don’t tell me you haven’t recently marked all as read in Google Reader because you’re just too busy/tired/overwhelmed to sort through it all.