Thursday, March 23, 2006

Noses and tongues in cyberspace

Humans need physical contact with each other. Infants sink into depression and die without it. In day to day relationships, never underestimate the power of a handshake, a pat on the back, a hug, or a kiss.

One could say that it's not very likely that online world will ever develop the kinesthetic capabilities, unless technology figures out how to accurately record someone's caress and transmit that digital record into the other's nervous system.

Not very likely, one could say but then, one would be wrong.

You can argue until the cows come home about how you can psychologically and emotionally embrace someone through words alone, but the bottom line is that you can't currently hold your loved one in cyberspace.

How does this effect the use of social media? Is it a barrier? A show-stopper?

In the physical, tactile, spatial world, doing things with people creates bonds. It creates a history to the relationship. In multimedia environments, we can 'meet' people at some specified site and move with them from one visual setting to another. It feels a bit like going places with them. Understanding their thoughts IS a real experience.

How many of you think you 'know' the people that you are reading? Studies have shown that students of online courses have a knowledge of their professors that is very similar to a physical relationship.

But for some cultures, while doing things with others certainly is possible on the Internet, it doesn't have as powerful a physical, tactile, or spatial feeling?

It's cold. And that has an affect on credibility and authority.

Enter video blogging ... also known by their shorter, clunkier name, vlogs. In the last year, more and more people have begun filming their lives, their art and their local communities and posting their reports on the Web.

These short clips feature subjects ranging from the personal to the political: a dad filming himself making pesto and talking to his kids, who now live in Germany after he and his wife separated; a protest over the G-8 summit; the performance of a band at San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi's victory party.

Vlogging is making big changes - want proof? One word - Witness.

But wait - there is still another issue.

The scent of perfume, hair, clothes, skin. Smell brings us very close to the other. It stirs up powerful emotional reactions. The sense of taste brings us closer still. It's the sensation of lovers. One might say that smell and taste are rather 'primitive' interpersonal sensations, but both are the cornerstones of deep intimacy - maybe because they ARE so primitive, so fundamental.

In addition to touch, smell and taste are the primary ways an infant connects to its mother. It is one's very first, essential relationship that serves as the prototype for all later relationships in one's life.

On this level of relating, social media once again falls flat on its noseless, tongueless face. But that may be changing. Ever heard of Smell-O-Vision?

Fast forward to the 21st century, and a new and improved Smell-O-Vision. While the technology is still in the experimental stage - far from mainstream - it reflects an understanding of the untapped business potential available through an integration of the sense of smell.

This doesn't mean that social media should be dismissed as whimsical mental meanderings with no value or purpose. Quite the contrary. Psychology clearly has established the necessity of 'information' for maintaining emotional health and promoting personal growth.

Cyberspace is not simply an 'information super-highway'; it can offer the human psyche much more than facts. Virtual space can flex the boundaries of conscious and unconscious realities.

It is starting to tell us something about the meaning of 'real'.

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