Thing #10 has all the Web Things challengers thinking and talking about technology. I was struck, recently, with a staggering realization about technology and how I use it. I’m very active in a specific niche of the blogosphere and in writing and commenting for and on blogs over the last year I’ve felt like I’ve gotten to know a lot of really awesome people. I discovered that when something fun or exciting happened, they were the people I was going to share my news. One fellow commenter, who lives in Texas, asked me once “Do you mind that I tell people I have a friend in NJ?” But part of me kept thinking, “Shouldn’t I be worrying about this? Doesn’t technology deny the human element that is so necessary for making lasting friendships? Isn’t this ‘virtual’ stuff supposed to skew everything into some unholy Wild West of social dystopia?”
Then something strange happened. I had the opportunity to meet ten or so of the people I’d been “hanging out” with online. And guess what? Every single one of them was exactly the same in real life as they were online. Interacting with them in person wasn’t any different than interacting with them online. “How bizarre!” I thought. Then I read the following in a post David Lee King wrote about how 2.0 isn’t dead, contrary to one writer’s belief:
When you start hanging out in a new social circle, what’s it take to be respected there? You have to actually DO some things, like hang out with them, share yourself with them, build them up, be authentic, etc – you have to spend a significant amount of time just “being” in that social circle in order to be accepted by the new group. Social networking tools are the same – because we’re NOT DEALING WITH TECHNOLOGY. We’re dealing with people.
Of course! This idea that the internet is “virtual” just doesn’t really apply anymore. If I buy a book off Amazon I’m not “virtually” shopping, I’m “actually” selecting an item and purchasing it. If I send a letter via email, I’m not “virtually” corresponding, I’m “actually” sending a letter to a recipient. So if I’m talking online with someone, I’m not “virtually” socializing — I’m “actually” spending time with other people. And that time spent can be valuable, it can be meaningful.
I’ve read and heard people sniffing at the idea that libraries can use technology to reach patrons, but David Lee King’s point is a good one. We’re not going to be using technology to reach people. We’re going to be using people to reach people.