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Some unformed thoughts on Ambient Intimacy for the next generation

My little boy is six months old tomorrow. I’ve been thinking a lot, since he’s been around, about what the world looks like to him now, what it might be like in the future, and trying to understand how his little brain develops and turns him into a real little person (incredibly quickly, as it turns out).

I’ve been thinking a bit about this lately and I’d love to workshop it with you…

For people born in 2008 (and probably a few years before) – ambient intimacy will just be a normal state. It won’t have the novelty that it has had for us. The ability to stay in touch with people that we have stronger or weaker ties with in this light weight way will be something available to them from a very young age and – in all probability – throughout their entire lives.

What do you imagine the repercussions will be?

For example, assuming that within the next few years, more and more people will have a social presence online, my little guy will have no real excuse to ‘lost contact’ with anyone he makes contact with. Can you imagine a kindergarten equivalent of Facebook? I can. Extrapolate from there.

What does that mean? Being able to ‘lose touch’ is, when you think about it, a pretty valuable luxury. How will we negotiate this I wonder.

What about ‘contact’ scalability. How many contacts could you accumulate over the course of a lifetime if you start really young? How will we manage that? If we get stressed about our mum’s friending us on FaceBook now, what do our kids have coming? We think Twitter gets distracting now – how will we manage all the noise that such a huge number of contacts will generate? Or will we all just shut up? (I doubt it).

How will we manage our identity online as our identity changes? Will this pressure that seems to be about to have an ‘integrated’ online persona (work, social, family, all in together) continue? If not, how will different personas evolve and how will the be related? Will we be able to re-invent ourselves? Will it be as fun? Will our kids ever forgive their parents for putting so many photos of them on Flickr when they were babies?

On the brighter side though, imagine how powerful and extensive these networks will be – the ability to motivate, research, refer, inspire, inquire. How distributed and trusted information sources will be.

Put on your future goggles and imagine what it would be like… what do you see?

9 thoughts on “Some unformed thoughts on Ambient Intimacy for the next generation

  1. Thought-provoking post. Very interesting.

    It’s funny, for a (mostly) reformed paranoid security guy, I’m relatively laissez-faire about keeping my actions/presence/stuff private.

    That said, privacy for my kids (and anyone else’s) is an entirely different matter. Privacy and security are so rarely thought about, even by those who know better, and the implications of getting kids started early in “social tools” that do not address privacy well (and explaining to kids why they shouldn’t just trust any ol’ “virtual stranger”) is going to be an interesting promise.

    On the “losing touch” front, yes, I wonder if it’s a blessing or a curse to lose touch. Varies widely I suspect – there are relatively few people that I’ve met in the past that I’d rather not find me now, but in the majority of cases, I’d much rather stay in touch.

    We definitely have not solved the issues of filtering and classifying relationships and the flow from our contacts. Far too easy to become buried in the updates on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc..

    It will certainly be interesting to watch how this evolves over time. Of course William Gibson and other sci-fi writers have already envisioned this future – “smart agents” would seem to be the way to go, although my experience thus far with virtual receptionists doesn’t make me think this is going to be a useful reality any time soon!


  2. Hi Leisa,

    An interesting post. I’ve just posted a reply on our blog with the thought that this might make virtual worlds more attractive.

    If in the real world a permanent digital footprint and an accumulating list of contacts means there is no means of identity escape (or a fresh start), then there is always the option of “internal emigration” to the virtual one.

  3. Dunno. Consider the degree of “freedom” and “privacy” that your typical inhabitant of the Wild West had, in early 19th century America. If you wanted to completely re-invent yourself — shed your existing identity and assume a new one — all you had to do was pack up and move a few hundred miles. None of us have ever experienced that degree of “freedom” or “privacy”, and I suspect that most of us would dismiss it as a silly comparison. I don’t think it is, though. What we perceive to be “normal” or even “good” is often largely a matter of coincidence of time and place. The example above grows more extreme the farther you go back in time.

    Stoye Boyd made an interesting comment recently, musing about the death of journalism, where he compared journalists bemoaning its demise with fishermen complaining about “losing their way of life” after fishing the oceans dry.

    The future will be what it will be. And, typically, it looks like a looming disaster to the middle-aged. Shrug.

  4. I think the luxury of losing touch will be something your kids simply won’t know about. The “luxury” will be broadcasting pauses – turning devices and social apps off – but I reckon that will be seen by your kids’ network as a sign of something being wrong.

    Being optimistic, I think the next generation will be far more open and transparent than ours, simply because their whole lives will have been shared. This makes many of us older folks nervous, because we’ve grown up with a more closed society. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “do your really want future employers to know x, y and z?” Personally, the stress of trying to decide what to share an what to hide is more irritating than the theoretical fear, and I’m 38. The kids won’t even worry about it – they’ll just demand jobs where they are allowed to participate, and be accepted as they are, and their networks will make finding such jobs easier. Stephen Collins mentioned this in a recent slidecast, and he’s 100% on the money.

  5. Hi Leisa,
    I have been thinking about your post and it raises many questions for me. Questions around the future of work skills, aptitude and EQ. So many people focus on teaching people about the benefits of shiny new things, but what if people began to focus on information and attention management, profile management, social networking etiquette and time management for social media dummies etc…?
    Agree it will be interesting to watch as this space evolves. Thanks for the post.

  6. I often think that we allow ourselves too much wishful thinking when it comes to imagining the future in which our children will grow up.

    It’s several thousand years since the invention of the written word, yet still there are people who don’t/won’t/can’t read and write; so why do we always assume that in the future 100% of our children will be permanently plugged into the network?

    Some will use social networking tools, some won’t, probably in much the same proportions as at present.

  7. Future goggles you say?

    I am trapped on my morning train so here goes.

    On the one hand there are fanciful thoughts of the world becoming smaller and smaller as people get direct and personal ‘feedback’ on their actions. Anonymity becomes more difficult because everyone who has ever known you, your family, any of your friends will be able to know and comment on what you do. The ‘gossipy village’ of old where the keepers of the knowledge can talk about you, your history, your family’s history suddenly goes global! You can never leave. You have to take responsibility for your actions lest you be judged by your very own global village.

    Permanence is scary.

    Day to day we sit there, we make stuff, design wonderful interactions that entice and excite, make people change their behaviour, fit into their lives, change their lives. How much do we consider the societal impact of what we do?

    Scientist, pesticide, Agent Orange, could we have guessed?

    My paternal grandmother couldn’t read or write.
    My mother is currently travelling the world and twittering from her mobile.
    The only thing that ever stops me sending out an email, text, writing a blog post, making a call is a flat battery and no signal!

    Maybe the progress that your son and his generation will get to appreciate is all the joy and ease of communication without the RSI? “Typing? Pah! How very old-fashioned! Haven’t you used predictive telepathy? Mother, look, just blink three times and the telepathy module is activated and then all you have to do is think!” – “Oh, you kids with your new-fangled technology, how will I ever keep up?!”

    It’s raining and this train journey is going on a bit. I’ll stop now. Thanks for keeping me occupied.

    Whatever the future holds I am sure your boy will have all the dramas of love and loss, friendship and people he never wants to see again, photos that make him blush or cringe and, I am quite sure that he and his generation will work it all out. Forty years ago that grandmother of mine managed to get from one side of Europe to the other with an address written on a piece of paper. People are inventive.

    Give the boy a kiss from me!

  8. Silly, he’ll still loose contact with people, less likely though and in a different way( simply ‘cos he won’t be able to give his attention to all the people he’ll meet in his life ). Also, do you loose contact with that many people to make this relevant?

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