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We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the emptiness of the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
An excerpt from Clive Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think starts by restating Mark Granovetter’s arguments on the strength of weak ties in social networks — they connect you to people unlike yourself — and ends with me, of all people, talking about the way to make sense of the torrential stream of communications in a social world:
Clive Thompson via Wired
Mind you, acquiring a network that feeds you surprising and valuable knowledge doesn’t happen on its own. Like most of our new digital tools, crafting a good set of weak links takes work. If we don’tengage in that sort of work, it has repercussions. It’s easier to lean into homophily, connecting online to people who are demographically similar: the same age, class, ethnicity and race, even the same profession.
Homophily is deeply embedded in our psychology, and as Eli Pariser adroitly points out inThe Filter Bubble, digital tools can make homophily worse, narrowing our worldview.
For example, Facebook’s news feed analyzes which contacts you most pay attention to and highlights their updates in your “top stories” feed, so you’re liable to hear more and more often from the same small set of people. (Worse, as I’ve discovered, it seems to drop from view the people whom you almost never check in on — which means your weakest ties gradually vanish from sight.) As Pariser suggests, we can fight homophily with self-awareness—noticing our own built-in biases, cultivating contacts that broaden our world, and using tools that are less abstruse and covert than Facebook’s hidden algorithms.
If you escape homophily, there’s another danger to ambient awareness: It can become simply too interesting and engaging. A feed full of people broadcasting clever thoughts and intriguing things to read is, like those seventeenth-century coffee shops, a scene so alluring it’s impossible to tear yourself away. Like many others, I’ve blown hours doing nothing of value (to my bank account, anyway) while careening from one serendipitous encounter to another.
Others have complained that ambient awareness stokes their FOMO — “fear of missing out,” the persistent dread that there’s some hashtagged “happening” they’re missing out onrightthis instant, a sort of hipster recency paranoia on overdrive.
The trick here is mindfulness. We need to notice when our dallying in the ambient world is taking us away from other things we ought to be doing. Stowe Boyd, a pioneer in social media, once compared ambient signals to a stream of water. You go to a stream to take a sip — not to try to inhale the entire thing. “You take a drink, and you walk away until you’re thirsty again,” he told me.
OgilvyOne London: “As an ad agency, we’ll always be trying to lean forward” - Emma Gardner via Lean Back 2.0
Has OgilvyOne London seen any evidence of people “leaning back” when consuming ads or creative content on their iPad?
[OlgivyOne London Chief Executive Annette] KING: It’s interesting because we were having a debate between lean forward and lean back before we got on the call with you. There’s a time and a place for both. The Economist app is a good example of a ‘lean back and consume’ type of situation. As an ad agency, though, we’ll always be trying to lean forward. We’re always trying to get people to take part in the app and engage with the ad. By definition, it’s an immersive kind of approach.
We’re really interested in the dual screen experience right now. By dual screen, I mean sitting in front of the TV with a tablet. You might be watching one thing on the TV, but doing something else on your tablet. And we want to start connecting those two things. If Jamie Oliver is making a special truffle recipe on television, you can use your tablet to find out where truffles grow in the world, or how to make Jamie’s recipe. You can get people involved through the second screen.
I wonder about ‘always trying to lean forward’: isn’t there a place for ambient advertising? Ambient awareness of other people (through Twitter or other social tools) is a back of the mind sort of attention scheme: you know what people are up to based on their updates moving by while you are doing other things.
I conjecture that ambient advertising could be very effective on the second screen. Imagine that as I am watching a cooking show, and I’ve enabled a second screen gear applet on my tablet. As the chef’s use various kitchen tools, the gear applet streams pictures and descriptions of the gear: this knife, this sauce pan, this stove. You might think that this is a lean-forward set up — that I am dedicating foreground attention to the gear streaming by — and I might do that the first few times I use the app. However, as I habituate to the app, I will begin to treat it as a lean-back stream of information, so my perception of the products being featured is more additive or cumulative. It’s just as much about brand building as a call to action.
Yes, there will still be times when I want to buy that particular knife, right now. But in general I think it will lead to a collection of brand associations built over time, so that when I get to the point when I want to buy a new knife, a few brands are in my head, and I choose between them at the store, or online.
If there is one thing that advertisers can do, though, to make lean-forward intimacy with products more likely on the second screen, it would be to make it easy to share product information and images with other people: wire it deeply into the social dimension of TV.
(For more on Social TV and The Second Screen, download the free Work Talk special report on that subject, here.)
In some recent writings and presentations, I have explored the topic ‘Time Is The New Space’:
We are not sharing space online, although it the conventional wisdom says we are. We are sharing time. Time has become a shared resource.
Our time is increasingly not our own, in a good way, as we move into a streamed model of connection.
Individual time becomes less of a reality, and a shared thread of time will become the norm — shared with those that are most important to you and those that reciprocate. This will change the basic structure of work.
Time is increasingly less linear, less mechanical; but more subjective and plastic.
Individuals will choose to trade personal productivity for connectedness, as voices in the stream ask for help, pointers, and introduction. Connectedness will trump other obligations, specifically timeliness.
I want to build on one aspect of this topic: to the degree that we rely on real-time streaming as the basis of our work interactions, we will sense that we are sharing time, not documents, or other artifacts. Interaction in real-time forms the context of our interactions, and displaces many prior social objects.
In particular, this means the end of documenting status by reports: moments are what we share, not memos.
The elements of the memo are atomized into a scattershot of micro status updates, which, like macro blogging before it, has thrown away the stucture of beginning, middle and end. We are always at the start, middle, and end. Not everything fits into a 140 character Twitter post, but long form writing won’t necessarily look like memos, but a slightly slower stream made up of larger chunks.
In everyday, more prosaic terms, I am betting that the operational documents that flowed, sluggishly, through the interoffice mail of companies in the ’90s, and as email attachments in the ’00s, will simply not be created in the ’10s. Instead, people will simply aggregate others’ streams — both micro and macro — ordered by time and topic. Or simply remain aware of what folks are doing in an ambient way, sharing time. A fully streamed world, not batched.