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In all the talk of information age and dot com bubble and digital revolution it is very easy to let slip an inevitability of change. That is, to assume that everything will not be what it was before. That something is going to happen, and that one must only decide if it is for the best or worse.

Change is doable, I will concede that and this is a big concession. But (and just very recently I got to that conclusion) change is not necessary, and certainly not unavoidable.

The best illustration for that thought is the over-hype of orkut-life (in Brazil, of course, elsewhere I could say MySpace-life or something). It seems to be taken as common sense that orkut permits a level of intruding in someone else’s life that wasn’t possible or conceivable before. That the information one can get from orkut is impossible to achieve from other means.

But, as Danah Boyd puts so well, “MySpace has more to do with offline structures of sociality than it has to do with virtuality”. Gossip is gossip, whether it is spoken, written or trackbacked. The amount of influence the group has over the individual is overwhelming, but it has been so for dozens of millennia. It’s pretty much part of our DNAs, and I don’t see getting more invasive than that.

What orkut does is change in unexpected ways the relative costs of some forms of gossip, or how much time and energy one must expend to discover things and publicize them, and this economic change can make itself felt very strongly sometimes. (More on that at some other time).

Just as orkut can be part of the ordinary, non-virtual, life, so can all the so-called revolutions of technology and communications and transportation maintain all the previous structures of life. Today I can on a whim decide to cross distances that few centuries before would be more than days of travel, and even come back to dinner, but that does not make people less connected to their home-cities.

And that means that all the over-hyped revolution (or revolutions) is as easily another package for the same old ordinary life that there was before. And this is, in itself, not terribly bad, but the fact that people tend to think that everything did and is changing, without their personal influence, is very dangerous.

One Comment

  1. What really bugs me is the idea that change is inherent to the medium. In other words, that a personal exchange will unavoidably be defined by how it is conducted. That if you are making out in Orkut that it will be significantly different than doing so in a mall or around a campfire. That a friendship from SL will be different from a friendship from regular mail from a friendship “live”. And the same way of thinking goes in saying that a industrial society will be different from an agrarian one. At face value, those differences are there. The problem is that the change is deemed inherent. Or that technology is taken as the cause of things, without interference from intent or the people who are involved in such technologies. And that would mean that an jealous girlfriend who dumps me because of comments on orkut would not be jealous without orkut. And also that people do not need to assume a conscious, personal, responsible attitude towards the medium.

    Obviously, the opposed point of view is equally naive, that the medium is neutral. But the hype over each of the many “virtual platforms” tends to stress the first idea.

    As a side note, I am familiar with the Jeckyl-Hyde syndrome, where a person shy-in-meatspace will turn extroverted on-line, and I also have been in both the J-H position and in the position of being badgered by J-H (and therefore I am not as optimistic about this effect of virtuality). But I do not think this is a counter-argument to Danah’s position. The fact that the same person assumes different stances in different mediums is neither a good or a bad thing, and also not a signal that the particular medium is particularly powerful or important.

    (I quoted this article in my blog, just wanted to say so, but I do not know what is the proper form of doing it… I inserted the post url as my url.)


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