Yesterday, I stumbled across an interesting article, A Brain-to-Brain Interface for Real-Time Sharing of Sensorimotor Information. It goes into detail about how a sensor was connected to one rat's brain, and the experiences were transmitted, over the internet, to another rat who learned from the experiences of the first rat.
My science fiction enthusiastic brain went wild thinking about the possibilities. While the starting point is with sensorimotor information, I wondered what else could be transmitted. While the starting point was rats, I wondered what could be done with humans, or even, interspecies communications. What would it be like to experience the sensorimotor feelings of a horse galloping? Could this information be stored and played at a later time, perhaps as an educational tool? Could I become a better pianist or guitarist by playing back sensorimotor recordings of great performers? Could this be added to albums, so I could not only listen to a great performance, but experience the sensory feelings of the performer during the performance?
And what about the use in dealing with conditions like Parkinson's disease or Essential Tremors: Could a researcher gain insight by playing back the sensorimotor recording of a person with these conditions? Could playing back the sensorimotor recordings of healthy people provide some sort of therapy for people with these conditions?
All of this, of course, is precursor to The Borg. What happens as people become more connected to a collective mind? The borg is portrayed negatively in terms of force assimilation, yet our society has always been based on collective experiences and action. The struggle between individual experience and collective experience is an age old struggle.
Last night, I went to see The Indigo Girls in concert in Northampton with my daughter who started her college career in Virginia. It was striking to think about the collective experience of young women around Northampton and how it compared with the collective experience of some of my daughter's classmates from the south. I wondered how many of my daughter's classmates sought to flee their southern collectives, not for more individuality, per se, but to join a collective that was more tolerant, more embracing of their individual experiences.
I remember, many years ago, gathering around a campfire, to sing songs. Singing around campfires is one of the earliest ways in which experiences were shared, in which the collective spread its common ideas. Yet even two decades ago, around the campfire, different modes of collective engagement were creeping in. Many of the songs we knew, we had learned on the radio, and not around previous campfires. The campfire itself, was most likely started using the remains of another way of sharing collective information, used newspapers. We shared our experiences from around the campfire when we returned to our homes and spoke with friends.
Last night, the individuals who had this shared experience had gained collective information other ways. They had listened to music online, perhaps sharing it online. The newspapers were largely replaced by sharing of news online. Perhaps the most striking change was the way the collective experience of the concert was shared. During the concert, people texted their friends. They called friends from their cellphones so their friends could listen in, or to leave a brief recording of the experience on their friends voicemail. Photographs and videos were taken, and I imagine, shared via social media.
As far as I know, no one had implements allowing them to have the same sensorimotor experiences as Amy Ray or Emily Saliers, yet this omission did not seem to lesson the very strong bond between the audience and the performers.
Progress marches onward and some day, perhaps, we will look back at how we have shared common experiences via pictures, sound recordings or the written word, as being as quaint as the gathering around the campfire many generations before. Yet we would do well to remember the words of John Donne, "No man is an island" and that each one of us should say, "For I am involved in mankind".
This afternoon, I read a blog post by David Weinberg, Are all good conversations echo chambers?. He was discussing a blog post by Bora Zivkovic, Commenting threads: good, bad, or not at all. They are both very good blog posts, well worth the read.
David spends a bit of time at the end of his post talking about theories of communication. In particular, David says
I presume that such a theory would include the notion... that conversations have aims, and that when a conversation is open to the entire world … those aims should be explicitly stated
When I talk to people about social media, I often talk about the aim. When doing social media for an organization, it is important to stay on task and make sure that the communications are inline with the organizations mission. Another key aspect to talk about is audience. Who are you communicating with? This includes understanding the motivations and abilities of your interlocutors.
On the other hand, I often talk about social media as a conversation at a party, or perhaps even at the office. It is one of the reasons I like tweets about what people had for breakfast. When I run into a friend, whether it be at work, at a conference, or wherever, I don't start off immediately with the topic I want to discuss. If I see David tomorrow, I'll probably start off by talking about how it's been a long time since I've seen him. Ask how things are going, maybe tell him a little bit about what has been going on in my life, before getting around to discussing his latest blog post.
Now you could say that part of the aim of such repartee is to strengthen rapport be the the participants. That is an aim of the beginning of a conversation. Yet it illustrates that the aim of a conversation may be very broad based and fluid.
Likewise, what is the aim of discussions around the dinner table? At the Hynes household discussions can be very wide-ranging. The aim of the discussions are perhaps primarily about having fun and enjoying one another's company. But there can be subservient aims, like learning something new or stimulating creativity.
I think this may fit into the research that Bora is writing about. The tone of the discussion in comments communicates the emerging aim of the comments. It may be for the sheer joy of flaming or troll baiting. It may be for the joy of learning something new or sparking creativity. Depending on how the comments are approached, the emerging aim may end up being closely in line with the aim of the person who wrote the blog post or vastly divergent.
With this, I want to come back to David's concern about echo chambers. It is why I've been talking about the roles of learning and creativity. Echo chambers seem to reinforce already established views as opposed to being an opportunity for learning or creativity. I'm not sure I know exactly what produces creativity, but it has always seemed to come from when very different ideas collide. We have some wonderful collisions like this around the dinner table, but I've rarely seen such collisions in echo chambers.
Will these ideas collide with those of David or Bora in any interesting way? That would be wonderful. If not, the simple joy of reconnecting virtually with some old friends might be a sufficient aim.
I don't watch a lot of television. If I do watch television, it is likely to be something on the Roku, most likely something from Netflix. I haven't yet watched 'House of Cards' on Netflix, but I'm hearing good stuff about it. It is interesting to see changes in who is producing video content.
When I do watch television, I like to do it as a social event and I've tweeted about various shows for years. Now, there are a growing number of 'second screen' apps and websites. I installed Zeebox on my phone quite a while ago, but have never ended up using it. Today, I tried to use it during the Animal Planet Puppy Bowl, but without any success.
The other day, I got an invitation to Tweet.TV Initially, I didn't find Animal Planet, but that was because it had me defaulting to some television system in Pennsylvania. When I configured it to my local cable company, Animal planet came up and I started tweeting about Puppy Bowl.
Tweet.TV has gamification. You score points for connecting, tweeting, etc. You can use these points to pick up deals or freebies, similar to Klout Perks. So far, none of the perks have really caught my attention.
So, as we approach the big game, we'll see what social media tools I'll use for my second screen. What are you using as a second screen during the big game?
For Allen Ginsberg and Aaron Swartz
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.
The angry fix they sought was far different from that of Ginsberg's friends.
These hipsters were typing something other than 'starry dynamo' into the search engines.
They were Google mapping the seats of power at midday, not the negro streets at dawn.
They were fighting a in new revolution, a revolution that would take their life and liberty.
A junkie with a knife can be scary. He'll take the cash in your pockets and rush off for his fix,
leaving you shaken as you walk home. But a hacker with a mission, now that is dangerous.
He will shake the very means of production and distribution, the economy you depend upon
to get that cash into your pockets.
It's all well and good when they take down an Arab dictator.
It's tolerable when they change the news media and political process, as long as it can be co-opted by the press and politicians.
But when they start threatening the profitability of the legal and academic presses in the greatest democracy of the world, they must be hounded, driven underground, labeled hacker and felon, until they kill themselves.
"Some days it seemed like all there was was gray". With those words, Aaron Swartz started off a blog post about his relationship with Quinn Norton. This morning, I started off my blog post about driving to a funeral with, "It was a grey January morning as I climbed into my black 1997 Nissan Altima and headed north".
It seems appropriate that my RSS feed is full of posts about Aaron Swartz who help with the creation of RSS. The posts are by some of the bloggers I respect most, David Weinberger, Ethan Zuckerman, and Larry Lessig to name a few.
I don't have stories of meeting Aaron when he was 14 or of him staying at my house at some point. I'm not sure if I ever met him, but given our mutual friends and mutual interests, I suspect we probably met somewhere along the way.
Yet Aaron's death hits me hard. Perhaps it is because of the recent death of my mother and of my cousin. Perhaps it is because now, more than ever, we need people like Aaron fighting for open access to information on the internet, in the courts and in our government.
There is not much more to say than I am so sad.