Virtual Omnipresence

Electric field lines emanating from a point po...

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How fast can you change your life?

Pretty soon, computation will stream like electric power: you’ll still use hardware, but your information will be ubiquitous. The applications that we have gotten used to on our desktops, laptops and mobile devices will increasingly move into a Cloud.

Enterprises won’t need to invest in as much capital equipment for their computational needs. They’ll be able to pull computation down from the Cloud. Individuals will be able to access information from virtually anywhere.

We are swiftly moving into a world where data will be streaming all around us. Our lives will become increasingly dependent on a gigantic but seamless flow of data. For all practical purposes, your virtual presence will be everywhere: it will become virtually omnipresent.

There are two problems with virtual omnipresence:

  1. When you’re everywere, you’re nowhere
  2. You cannot hide

These two problems, which seem to form a paradox, have important implications for privacy. Some say privacy is dead. Perhaps it is or soon will be. Whatever its specific fate, our conception of it will undergo radical changes. As Rainer Rilke points out:

…for here there is no place that does not see you.

One of the toughest challenges we have as we enter virtual omnipresence is our search for meaning. As abundance of data swells so does the scarcity of meaning. Finding meaning has been, and always will be, a central quest of being human. You might be able to search for a needle in a haystack, but will the needle have any meaning for you? Ah, there’s a question.

I have no doubt that our brains will plumb meaning out of the world. Still: how will we find meaning in a world inundated with downpours of data? What changes will you need to make? How fast can you change your life?

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Are We Going to Get Social Media Right?

New, Improved *Semantic* Web!

Image by dullhunk via Flickr

As social media tools proliferate and as a global social cloud forms, there is a question about what it all means. Is it a good thing? A bad thing? A bit of both? Where’s it all heading?

I’m envisioning the future of the entire social media cloud. There’s ample talk about what’s going on right now. More than enough in fact. Don’t you want to know what’s going to happen? Do you hope, as I do, that we get it right?

By right, I mean that we expand democracy and shrink tyranny. By right, I mean that we become collaborators and not rivals. We will be both, but the cost of rivalry in a nuclear world increases as knowledge proliferates through the future social medium.


Perhaps we need to step back for a peak at the past and where we stand. For this post, I’ll break up the web into three phases:

  • Phase 1 (version 1.0): computer-to-computer connection (FTP)
  • Phase 2 (version 2.0): document-to-document connection (WWW)
  • Phase 3 (version 3.0): data-to-data connection (Semantic Web, Cloud)

For simplicity, we’ll say that Phase 1 began about 30 years ago, while Phase 2 began about 15 years ago.

We’re at the beginning of Phase 3. Phase 3 will transpire during a sharp technological inflection. Computing will evolve away from desk and laptops toward mobile devices and other portals. What we call the web, and are starting to call the Cloud, will become a global device into which we will all be plugged.

Social Media will be completely different in five years or so. Today there are thousands of tools, some of which win in popularity and others just die. What we call Social Media is greater than the sum of its tools. The tools might change, but the medium will grow. But just as Google pretty much won the text-search war, another entity (or small group) may ‘win’ the social media platform war.

We’ve gotten used to the idea that the web is just an invisible connective tissue for disparate points in a big fishnet. We have gotten acclimated to one model for the web. The web is rapidly evolving. Today’s model won’t work tomorrow. Ten years ago the model was TV. How wrong we were!

What’s going to happen when we are perpetually plugged into what will inevitably become a global supercomputer? Right now the web is a network of devices. That will change. The web will congeal into a dynamic mass of interactivity.


So, if we get this wrong, if we don’t address fundamental problems, we’re going to have big problems on our hands. The barbarism of the 20th Century hasn’t passed: industrialized nations are still waring, and economies are faltering. We cannot possibly think that what happens in the real world will be washed away by social media parlor tricks, can we?

Oh, and I forgot about RFID technology (or its future equivalent). When we’re inextricably embedded into the Cloud, who or what do we turn to if things are dystopic? Each other? Well, if we get it wrong, ‘each other’ might be the core of the problem. Phase 3 will bring unprecedented opportunities and dangers. It’s time for reviving science fiction exercises; we need intelligent and imaginative discussion.

Whatcha think? Are we getting it right? Are we discussing what matters most? Or are we so narrowly enthralled with the latest social media tools so much so that we’re forgetting about the future of the social media cloud?

Are we clear, or foggy?

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The Cloud Will Darken. Are We Prepared?

A Clovis point, made via pressure flakingImage via Wikipedia

The Cloud is coming. It will darken, even if passingly. An unprepared community might panic, breakup, and war among itself. Community is important to us human beings. We cannot survive well on our own. It’s possible to go it alone, but our travels only go so far that way. The transmission of our culture from generation-to-generation demands connection. Connection powers community. Sooner or later, we all need connection and live off of community. So, in the age of mass connection, do we have a bright future? Or does something dark await us?

It’s hard to say where the proliferation of social media will take us. Entropy says that the project of social media is doomed to degenerate into a mob-fest, a tyranny of ourselves against each other. Evolution via natural selection, however, indicates that successful adaptations might arise out of the chaos. Who knows for sure how mass connection will evolve?


If we are to get mass connection right, there are certain key ingredients we need to mind. Getting these right isn’t sufficient, of course, but they probably are necessary. Here are some off-the-cuff factors we’ll need to work out:

  1. Reinforcing in our youth the importance of integrity, discipline and focus in using social media
  2. Ensuring adequate security, accountability and reliability of what we put into the Cloud
  3. Considering the consequences of how we use social media
  4. Establishing a workable solution to the problem of online identity
  5. Solving the problem of abundance of data versus scarcity of meaning
  6. Maintaining awareness of our relationship with technology

There are many more things for our social media projects to get right. We’ll need to grow the list.


The Cloud will probably darken one day. What happens when all of our fluid data enters the Cloud and spins into a virtual hurricane of informational torrents? We could be living in an informational tyranny: a rivalry of ourselves against each other.

There are many bright prospects to our increasing adoption of social media tools. Friends and businesses can keep in touch; share experiences and discoveries; and enhance their relationships. Strangers can meet and exchange ideas, maybe develop personal and professional relationships.

All of our electronic interactions, however, are through media not around them. We aren’t really interacting with each other, are we? We are entering a new kind of relationship with technology. Our online interaction with each other is illusory (a useful illusion perhaps). It’s this more seamless, often hidden, relationship with the technology we develop and adopt into our lives which perhaps poses one of the greatest threats mass connection poses.


Paradoxically, we aren’t interfacing with each other as much as with the technology which connects us. What’s generally true of our primal behaviors between each other is simultaneously diminished and augmented through the technologies we are adopting.

The technologies of social media can amplify our mutual anger. When we get angry at each other, we don’t consider the technology. Perhaps we need to learn how to be mindful of our relationship with technology. If we can acquire that understanding we have a chance of surviving the storm clouds.

It’s not all doom and gloom. I’m hopeful that sunny days are ahead. I’m also pretty sure that the Cloud, however it forms, will darken. Whether it will darken by the command of a few cunning manipulators or through the lure of our own mimetic desires depends on the adequacy of our preparation.

What am I missing? Do you think we’re prepared? Can we even be prepared?

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