Re-humanizing Self and Others
The faceless face is ubiquitous online, but still there is clearly a sense of seeking personality in contacts. The restless search and follow of luminaries is one example of an attempt to create human connection, but also in the somewhat complete insistence on real human communication versus one-way information flow typical from organizations there is clear indication that re-humanizing is desired and needed. The radical anthropomorphizing of the mar rover via Twitter is an example of humanizing information in online social media. The distaste for following tweets that are merely pipelined from RSS or non-interactive sources is another example, although one that is somewhat fuzzy based on personal preference and immediate personal relevancy of the information, which is a kind of humanizing. And, the normalization of the human condition possible in these environments is reciprocal.
In many ways the liminality and physical unreality of social media and online environments helps to decontextualize people from preconceptions based on many of the factors usually applied to others. The effect of information overload also has the emergent effect of disabling the unrequited judgments usually imposed on others in slower paced information space. Although historically, prior generational social media like BBS and Usenet were rampantly infused with judgementalisms such as flame wars and grammar nazis, the ephemeral, passing nature of media like instant messages and Twitter disable the sense that polish is required or that mistakes are character traits. Euphemistically, the Internet isn’t thought to be authoritative even when utilized for information gathering, so people start with some sense of suspension about any information, even their own, while online. When everything is questionable, certainty is inherently suspended.
Search for Shared Meaning
The aspects of social media to mediate an environment consisting of shared intelligence offers an immediate substrate of shared experience and meaning generally uncoupled from prior constructs typical in physical spaces and in prior social contexts. Participants in social media contexts are engaged in adding value to each other’s experiences through distributed thinking and meaning making.
Framing in a Larger Context
A recent article on Slate (Manjoo, 2009) pointed out that twitter is a constant flow that plugs people into the ever changing zeitgeit of the moment. This is a connection to something larger than the self. Each instance of synchronicity or serendipity in the information exchanged through social media seems to reinforce this sense of something big going on. In fact, the sense that something is happening creates itself to some extent, as the frisson inherent in movements within a social mob are an instant positive feedback loop building something bigger than merely the additive numerical activities of the participants. While often temporary, the shared history of internet memes, like Badger Badger or the New Zealand profile blackout, are all examples of not only shared history but new and creative forms of collectivity.