Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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The Paradox of Wireless

I was just thinking about wireless technology for this presentation I’m giving in a few weeks and realized that the more we choose to unplug our devices from the grid, the more we also choose to plug ourselves into our devices. How many people do you see with white headphones every day? How about talking to themselves through their mobile phone headset? People are increasingly getting lost in their mobile devices.

I’m as bad as anyone. I never leave anywhere without my headphones on. Imagine the action I miss as I walk through New York City with my own soundtrack playing. And I’m certainly not the only one.

What’s even more sad, though, is what could be lost in the future. Bird chirps may hold no meaning for the next generation. And how many more people will miss seeing a friend because their lost in the own world? In a Guardian article titled “A generation lost in it’s personal space,” John Naughton writes:

This will change with the maturing of generations who have grown up with headphones welded to their ears. And as a result, our concept of social space will change. Imagine the future: a crowded urban street, filled not with people interacting with one another, but with atomised individuals cocooned in their personalised sound-bubbles, moving from one retail opportunity to another. The only sounds are the shuffling of feet and the rock muzak blaring from the doorways of specialised leisurewear chains.

It’s a scary image and one I don’t have the brain power to completely think through this evening.

Then again, as we’re closing ourselves out of certain parts of the world, we’re also opening ourselves up to whole other aspects. Although this is certainly a whole other entry, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether you can measure (in degrees of separation) the real impact on social interaction. I have a feeling that the internet moves six degrees down to four. (But that discussion is for another time.)

That could mean while we’re losing some interaction we’re making up for it in other places. Maybe our social world is not wilting but evolving.

April 5, 2005