For me, attempting to find a balance between job and family responsibilities, is no easy task. What makes it all the more difficult is the incendiary presence of my mobile phone (a black-hole ‘supercomputer’ portal of distraction). Whether it’s ‘server down’ notifications during bedtime reading, or a ‘please buy toilet roll’ text message flashing up during a meeting, what were once distinct areas of responsibility have become indiscriminately entwined as a result of ‘always on’ connectivity.
In my struggle to embrace networked chaos, I’m constantly reminded of the wider epidemic, often surrounded by a legion of smartphone zombies, all stooping into their ‘backlit beacons’, oblivious to surrounding offline comings and goings.
Two-hundred-thousand years since Homo sapiens first emerged in East Africa, when it comes to our relationship with online connectivity, we’re failing to live up to our Latin billing, ‘wise man’.
Not just in terms of evolving behaviour in relation to ‘www.ubiquity’, but also in our technological response, particularly with social media. Despite trillions in inve$tment and Moore’s law-driven consumerism (computing capability doubles every eighteen months), we’re witnessing only the very first steps of social media, looking on as it stumbles across the dark, unchartered, digital terrain that separates public and private persona.
Right now, so long as it’s ‘sugar coated’, a high proportion of the world’s three billion web users seem blissfully content to ignore the provenance of their digital diet. Like children with keys to the sweet shop, we gorge ourselves on kaleidoscopic digital delights, not realising the potentially harmful impact it has on behaviour, health and evolution. In my case, current forms of social media cause me to become ‘small talk intolerant’ (STI). All this micro-social activity failing to penetrate public persona, leaving us bouncing-off the glossy shield of social and professional status preservation… It causes me to develop an aggravated case of STI: a feeling of nausea, along with a craving for truthful, ego-less dialogue.
It’s one of the joys of having a partner in life, and of being a parent, that cut-throat honest conversation is modus operandi. Frank conversation is the hallmark of any close relationship.
But when it comes to online, the tech response to-date has been myopic, focused solely on providing platforms for the ‘false self’ — public persona, not the ‘true self’ — private selves. When private thoughts are shared using a public persona, unless you’re Bill Murray, it’s often a recipe for disaster, a red rag to a raging (self-deluded) ego…
For example, Facebook is chiefly responsible for the Chambers Dictionary ‘Word of the Year’ being awarded to ‘overshare’: “to be unacceptably forthcoming with information about one’s personal life”.
With its disturbing disregard for users as nothing more than data fodder, Facebook is positively Cerberus-like, guarding the hellish force-fed updates of other peoples lives from escaping into the land of the living. Naturally, I love my family, but I happily disown them in the context of Facebook, as I really don’t need to know what they’re all up to in return for what’s quite possibly the worst ‘exchange rate’ outside North Korea.
As for Twitter, despite allowing people and topics of interest to take precedent over fake social circles, it’s also prone to self-consciously manicured drivel, something I’ve been guilty of contributing to myself in an attempt to eek out some engagement, albeit to a small and unnoticed degree. When using ‘public persona’ platforms, I know in my ‘heart emoticon of heart emoticons’ that I’m nothing more than a tourist. My Twitter account is the social media equivalent of a holiday home — a distinctly circumspect retreat in a foreign land. If you ‘follow me’, I apologise. My ‘public persona’ is too restrained, I’m plainly not ‘digital native’ enough for this realm.
Which brings me to the heart of the matter: the elephantine absence of a digital social platform that connects private selves using the wonder of mobile web connectivity.
Why should public personas get all the attention? Sharing private thoughts, liberated from the association of authorship, are much more revealing and helpful!
Seemingly obvious, I expected someone to release a ‘private self’ network app, at any moment. Oddly, nothing noticeable has happened. Just a load of puerile anonymous apps that have about as much integrity and worthiness as they have appeal.
“Why get so bothered about it, just get on and live life!?”
It’s a fair point, and on the whole, I’ve been evading social media as much as possible. However, given its omnipresence (particularly around my work) that even when I abstain, it’s shouting for attention, like an obnoxious, over-confident, yet undeniably talented genius.
In the end, my frustration finally got the better of me. Sat alone, onboard a transatlantic flight, I started to consider what kind of social media platform would work for me… What would I like from global web connectivity..?
Foremost, I was fed up with the pretence of existing forms social media engagement, I wanted to be able to get beyond this to discover truth. I wanted helpful and constructive insights. I wanted to go beyond the social and professional conformity of keeping up appearances, into the realms of what others really think… “If only I could ask everyone on board this plane what they thought about the food being served, or what they thought about my colour choice of socks today!!!”
Just as important as being honest, I’d want to be carefree, not singled-out for my opinion or beliefs, not bullied by the bitter and hateful… I wanted to be free of identity and collaborate with minds across the globe.
It boiled down to wanting to engage with other ‘true selves’, locally and globally, publicly, fearlessly, safely, without the distortion, constraints and obstacles of social, professional and celebrity status.
The wonderment of this collaborative freedom then amplified further for me with the parallel prospect of achieving this with conditions that generate ‘collective intelligence’ — “a shared, group intelligence which emerges from collaboration, unifying a range of independent voices to deliver a set of answers that are more accurate and insightful than those provided by any individual expert.” James Surowiecki’s fantastic ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ was a huge inspiration, giving me the confidence and conviction to make this a reality…
Like gazing up at the sky at night — crowdsourcing wisdom from 100 people, 10,000 people, 100,000 people, and have them collaborate unencumbered by their individual identities — the beauty of this free, yet priceless spectacle, for me at least, was overwhelming and irresistible.
I honed the vision further during subsequent episodes of pressurised cabin (fever) solitude, whilst also taking on board expert feedback from the likes of Anthony Volodkin and Yancey Strickler, two legendary digital pioneers who kindly spared time to input. All the while, voices of dissent over the inadequacies and deficiencies of current social media, grew louder. Anonymity had become de rigeur for any self-respecting social media startup. It felt as if revolution was in the air.
Fast-forward to today, and despite there being a slew of anonymous apps, various new twists on social media (all of which are in various states of media hype and decline), that revolution has yet to happen in earnest. Cracks have certainly appeared, and the likes of Ello have emerged, Facebook even has a Tor access option, but we still haven’t something truly disruptive to merit genuine excitement.
I’m no sage, but there’s a tiny chance things could be about to change. After many months, my idealistic vision of a ‘maxim media platform’ has become a vulnerable reality…
Once installed, first impressions may feel familiar, as the aim is a universal user-experience that’s easily understood. Hopefully, as you get to spend more time with it, the opportunity to be openly private should sink in, and you’ll be able to embrace digital connectivity in such a way that it promotes fearless collaboration, sharing of knowledge and opinion.
It’s a digital tool for discovering truth, however trivial or serious; a mobile interface to delve deeper into the immediacy of both time and place; a trusted translator to better understand the world around without reliance on distorted, sometimes corrupt, self-elected gatekeepers.
This app might just add impetus to the paradigm shift toward a better, caring peoples web, connecting our fleeting lives with moments of wondrous collaboration.
Despite the premise of equality, right now the app is only available for iOS, and only to an initial 1000 ‘beta’ users.
Yes, the world is awash with apps, grand designs, and like any author, I’m blinded with bias and prone to grossly overestimating the appeal and validity of something I’ve grown to care about. Odds on, this is the reality, and as happens with so many apps, it could quietly sink to the bottom of the ‘app ocean’. Then again, I’m often wrong, so maybe it can defy the odds, and my idea may well indeed… float?? Either way, I’m responding to a frustration with a possible solution, so if nothing else, I’m healing my digital wounds.
Am I alone in rejoicing that there’s now a mobile platform where private selves can congregate and collaborate, freely?
There’s only one way to find out… I hope you enjoy.