Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Was LIFT07 a 'Mr. Play-It-Safe'?


Not at all. But what was most interesting about LIFT07 is what it wasn't.

LIFT06 was about talking and there was enough of that at LIFT07 but there's talking - and then there talking with conviction which in my mind equals knowledge.


It's becoming clearer that pervasive personal communication technologies offer the potential for important social benefits for individual users, but there is also the potential for significant social difficulties and costs.

In face-to-face social interaction, ambiguity is often identified as an important cue for resolving social difficulties. At LIFT07, and in the afterclass opportunities and blogs, the 2007 graduating class of LIFT university were overheard discussing concrete actions and reactions - both the fieldwork of commercial systems (Flickr, Wiki, Lee Bryant at Headshift, etc.) and, most notable, unrealized social design concepts.

My play on this is that we are starting to see (and question) how user behavior in social interactions can be influenced by technological issues that result in ambiguity and unresponsiveness. Read: the focus is too narrow on technology and online social tools are not enough to keep a relationship/community ongoing.

We are starting to see the need to balance the utility of social ambiguity against the utility of communicative clarity to get the 'real' value out of all Web 2.0 tools that are being pushed our way. (thx Euan)

Basically, social interaction requires face-work to keep it real. That was more than obvious at LIFT07 (or at any gathering of the social/techno hybrids).

Face-work is used to accomplish goals such as avoiding embarrassment and maintaining harmony in relationships as well as credibility and influence. Face-work involves managing the impressions that other people have of your behavior.

Technology isn't there yet. We talked about it but it just isn't there.

Recognizing this, we discussed the design of social communication tools that can be 'deconstructed' in a way that helps designers in addressing these issues.

Usability for the non-user is a great example of this. I had a short but interesting discussion about this with Jeffery Huang. I think he liked it.

We now realize that not only the users online benefit from being online. In several instances - those 'wrapped around' the online person benefit as well. So designers of social tools should also consider their 'requirements' as well.

I would like to see a 'Snailmail to a Friend' option right beside the 'Email to a Friend' link.

Rather than simply looking at novel social communication tools in terms of their effectiveness in transmitting information, we also need to consider their designs in terms of how they address users' overall social needs.

That (up there) changes relationships.

But this (down there) also changes relationships.

One of my key observation at LIFT07, as well as in my daily life as I travel and interact with people all over the globe in all ways thinkable, is that more interpersonal knowledge often makes managing social relationships harder. Sociologists have long argued that 'strong and valuable relationships presuppose a certain ignorance and a measure of mutual concealment' to function smoothly.

So - is creating identities in Facebook, LinkedIn and SecondLife really increasing the value of my online (and offline) relationships?

We might, then, think of evaluating designs in terms of their support for creating personal space through ambiguity, a goal that may have to be traded off against the goal of clarity that we usually associate with communication.

But that sounds like disconnection. And it is.

This led to a new discussion about going noware.

Adam Greenfield gave a great talk about Everyware but I was thinking about noware - how life will be in the future as people decide to disconnect or decide not to get connected at all.

The concept of disconnection was largely unaddressed - we all tended to focus on tools that allow interactions to begin with greater spontaneity, rather than on facilitating the ability to avoid, pause or escape interactions as needed. However, many situations exist in which it is desirable to delay or avoid an annoying social communication. With all of our information online - how can we get offline?

People are constantly balancing demands on their attention. Even in face-to-face interaction, balancing the attentional demands of quasi-present 'friends' can be difficult. The challenge is much greater as mobile technologies make communication with remote parties more pervasive and intrusive.

You know, (to borrow the attitude of my good friend Richard), the truth is that sometimes I prefer listening to the ring tone more than actually answer my phone.

So Lifters - what's this got to do with you?


We all bitch about the Web 2.0 hype - but we are living the dream/nightmare right now. And, let's be honest, we know that it's not working.

The fundamental problem with the so-called 'social media tools' is that social interaction is an affirmation of a social relationship as well as communication. For this reason, the closing sequence of a telephone call between people with an established relationship often involves an affirmation that they will talk again (and perhaps even when this will happen). Online - we assume - but we just don't know.

Read: Disconnected relationships.

Consequently, a simple SMS or Twitter or invite to the 'new next' tool contains an element of social insensitivity between people who are not well-attuned to each others' behavior or motivations.

Read: Disconnected communities.

The combination of me in SecondLife and in Facebook and in LinkedIn does not create an 'online personality' in a socially acceptable way - either online or off.

Read: Disconnected identity.

All my identities online are just pieces of a puzzle. Not exactly what a few stage-jockeys at LIFT07 were telling us in that 'be here - be there - be everywhere - be everyone' power point presentation, eh? But allot of the break-time discussions were touching on it and that's a good sign.

I think what LIFT07 attempted to do is to strengthen the dialogue between designers of mediated communication systems and socially linked 'users' in a face-to-face interaction.

And, bravo to Laurent and his team, I think it worked.

I hope that LIFT08 will continue to be brave and design discussions that might include explicit consideration of how users make sense of their interactions and relationships at the meta level.

If they do - LIFTo8 will be about the next web - Web N+1

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Anonymous Matt O'Neill said...

i sometimes think that people who take their social media real serious have problems smiling face to face!

Bring back the smiles!

9:40 AM, February 15, 2007  
Blogger J David Galipeau said...

Totally agree - good one Matt!

9:51 AM, February 15, 2007  
Anonymous AG said...

Now I'm really bummed I didn't have time to give my full presentation, with the material about the right to opt out of pervasive systems - I think you would've enjoyed it.

You can get a little taste of it here if you're interested. Point is, I fully agree with everything you're laying out here.

2:17 PM, February 15, 2007  

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