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  • Online social networking and the reverse warp drive through spacetime

    Posted on November 15th, 2009 Michiel de Boer 1 comment

    Someone once said that life is like a box of chocolate. I think that analogy was as sweet as it is flat. Of course you don’t know what you’re going to get, but life must be larger than that. I picture it more like how the big bang created the universe – a forever expanding spacetime trip. Forever? Maybe not entirely. I’m noticing that another fast-expanding phenomenon is starting to have a profound impact on my spacetime travels. I’m talking about online social networking, which is pulling me in reverse warp drive, forcing my spacetime continuum to collapse again.

    Warp drive through spacetime

    Warp drive through spacetime

    First let me state that I’m not an astronomer or physicist. This means that my spacetime analogy is fairly loose. Which is how I like my analogies anyway. Anyway, it all begins with that passionate big bang in our parents’ bedroom, the squeaky back seat of their car, or the table top in their kitchen. Right there and then, we are launched into our existence as spacetime explorers. We arise as new members in a social constellation of other people, which from then on will be in constant flux. At first, we are naturally drawn together by family, but soon other forces start getting involved. And so we spin, drift, gravitate towards, and orbit around friends, lovers, co-workers, extended family, ex-lovers, enemies and other forms and forces. Constantly expanding the frontier of our own spacetime journey.

    An important part of this process is that bonds, relationships, connections are dissolved just as much as new ones are created. People move, and move on. Creating geographical and mental distances that at some point places one outside of the other’s gravitational field. People break up, incidentally or intentionally, and in many cases never the twain shall meet again. Maybe you coincidentally bump into an old friend. In a restaurant, airport lounge, or the dairy aisle of your local supermarket. In the past that was. Today, this has all changed due to the proliferation of social networking, which we all seem to have embraced so passionately.

    Including myself. I’m not sure exactly how it got started, but I unconditionally plead guilty to my own, fairly active contribution to the social networking expansion. Ever since 2004 I must have created, built, neglected, and abandoned profiles on over fifty such services. Including all the obvious ones like LinkedIn, MySpace, Flickr, Meetup, Twitter, Ning, Yelp, and the undisputed heavyweight champion Facebook. Part of this has been due to my work in conceiving and building ZeccoShare, an online community of investors. In fact, it was my Last.fm participation that sparked the idea to apply social networking and user-generated content principles to the rather individual and isolated activity of researching the stock market.

    And social networking has brought me many other great benefits too. It has provided rich new ways to stay in touch online with new people I met offline. It even made me meet new people offline that I bumped into online. Again through Last.fm, one day I went to see a show at the El Rey in LA with a girl from Silverlake, where I was staying at the time. We had met because according to Last.fm our musical compatibility was ‘very high’. On top of that it turned out we were born on exactly the same day. A stunning spacetime coincident I’d say, made possible through the magical algorithms underpinning many online social networks.

    But it’s not all glorious. There’s a major downside too. And I’m not talking about the distracting fog of frivolous, immature, or outright moronic updates about what people have been up to in Farmville, Mafia Wars, or cleaning the wax out of their dog’s ear (a real example). I’m talking about the baked-in danger of social networking taking you in reverse warp drive, back in spacetime. How so? Well, by merging the present with the past, effectively collapsing your spacetime continuum back into a single point of, let’s call it Spacetimebook. Excuse me?! Well, I’m referring to that invitation to reconnect that you at one point may have received form the girl you did in fact have sexual relations with, twenty years ago in college. Like I did.

    I’m referring to your complete class from elementary school huddling together again after thirty years. Sure, reunions have always been a way for people to get back together. Just for an evening, you would gather and reconnect with a bunch of (partly unrecognizable) people from college, high school, or even kindergarten. The difference is that now the reunion is permanent. Pictures of you as a six-year-old kid start to melt with pictures of your friends’ six-year-old kids. Everyday. Which I find weird.

    If you’re twenty and just out of college you may not recognize this spacetime collapse I’m dealing with. The people you’re (re)connecting with online may simply not be from such a distant past. In fact, you’re probably using social networking more to expand your reach, becoming friends with people you’ve just met and you may want to stay in touch with. In a way, connecting on Facebook has become the social equivalent of exchanging business cards. How else would you explain someone having over five hundred ‘friends’?

    If you’re forty and you have some spacetime units behind your belt, this story may sound more familiar. Tell me, what did you do with the invite from that college fling? Did you accept the invitation, and exchange access to each other’s spacetime windows? I did not. And I have no idea how this story goes over for those in their 60s. As sixty is the new whatever, this age group seems just as social media savvy as their younger network peers. Although, I can imagine it must be a slightly disorienting sensation to share your Facebook experience with your kids, and maybe even grandchildren.

    Maybe it actually has nothing to do with age. Maybe it’s more a struggle of feeling a backward spacetime pull while my compass is still focused on navigating forward, seeking expansion. Maybe it’s the fear that ultimately, your personal spacetime will in fact collapse again, as scientists at one point thought would happen to our universe as well. Either way, I’d like to defy that notion. Instead of taking our cue from “What are you doing?” or “What’s on your mind?” let’s answer the question “Where are you going?”. Me? I’m warp speeding ahead.

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    • Piet

      Talking of warping back…. Take a look at this :

      http://www.nerdnet.nl/~piet/chiel.jpg

      This picture is taken @ North 50 51.444 East 5 44.332 in the summer of '76 – '77 something.

      You see from the left Michiel, his sister Hannah, Ludie (became a famous musician in the Maastricht area) and myself (went astray and ended up at the federal Dutch revenue service to anoy Joe Average)

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