Sunday, October 2, 2011

Social Network as Horse-Drawn Automobile - Part 2

In part one of this series, I introduced the idea that we are just beginning to perceive virtual identity and online social networks outside of mental models related to their physical world analogs. We always frame new technology through earlier paradigms. A good example is the early history of film.

At first, “moving pictures” merely extended the paradigm of the photograph, capturing daily events from a static camera position. It then extended the ancient medium of the stage play, presenting actors on a set through a continuous fixed shot. But over time, filmmakers began transcending the old mediums with new concepts like zooming, cuts between long, medium and close-ups and montages that escaped physical world boundaries of space and time.

It took audiences a while to develop an intuitive visual lexicon to make sense of all of the newfangled cinematography and editing. For instance, some french theaters in the early 1900s employed a narrator to stand next to the screen and explain the action to the audience. Luis Bunuel recounted a 1900s audience reaction to a camera zoom. He wrote, “There on the screen was a head coming closer and closer, growing larger and larger. We simply couldn’t understand that the camera was moving nearer to the head . . . All we saw was a head coming towards us, swelling hideously all out of proportion.”

So it's not surprising that people today have a hard time understanding the emergence of virtual pseudonymous identities on social networks. I imagine if you took someone out of the audience watching one of Edison’s early films and dumped them into a theater showing Avatar 3D, they would find it fairly incomprehensible. But just as movies were an extension of photography and drama, virtual identity is an expression of physical identity. And if we stand back and see it within that context, it can make better sense.

We are just beginning to explore virtual identity and social networks outside of the confines of our old ways of thinking. Although this early work will pave the way for future breakthroughs, I don’t think we’ve even reached the Model-T stage.  In part three of this series, I'll explore how pseudonymous identity can help bring to light the difference between "who we are" (the sentient being) and "what we are" (the aggregation of our physical aspects).

1 comment:

sororNishi said...

It doesn't seem that long ago that my grandfather explained that he couldn't understand the images he saw on TV.
He just didnt have that visual ability... so ... a very good analogy.