Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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Fear of Efficiency

I’ve been wondering for a while when it became socially acceptable to meet people from the online world in meat space. Way beyond the small likemind and coffee morning gatherings are 40 million Americans engaging in online dating. Ten years ago if I told someone I was going to meet an online friend they’d have thought I was nuts, now they only thing I’m a bit mad. That’s progress folks.

But why? What’s caused this change?

I’m going to use some of the comments from the last post to guide the discussion (and highlight again how much I appreciate the brilliant comments). This is an experiment in post writing, so please bear with me.

. . . the way that we interact with each other – both with our friends and with strangers – is completely changing. There are hardly any lines anymore between what’s virtual and what’s real, what’s digital and what’s physical. (Orli)

Our points of access into the online world are expanding. We are becoming more comfortable with the communication that happens there and better able to judge the authenticity of the voice we are reading/hearing. (On a side note, I can’t help but wonder if it’s just a coincidence that the upswing in my social contact as a result of this blog is directly related to me adding my photo to the homepage.)

But there’s another side:

. . . it seems every day the internet is finding new ways to distance people – noah’s likemind group not withstanding. It’s making people lazy – physically, emotionally, mentally. (Jeff)

A common concern, but as an avid user of social media, Chet responded:

I don’t see distancing and lazyness. Personally, MySpace has expanded the surface area of my social life immensely, in a way that has helped me become friends, and see in person, way more people than before (and more interesting people, usually). For example, I just moved to new york, and I instantly had quite a few friends – because of a few connections that were strengthened through the site. This was entirely enabled by MySpace (and as it happens, the job i got here was enabled by blogging). I am also able to stay in contact with my friends in Toronto to a much greater degree. Hell, before I moved, I sent out a bulletin about selling all my stuff, and the next day, all my friends came over to my house (they had seen the photos on Flickr, too). It was a great time. I think that’s efficient, not lazy. (Chet Gulland)

And here we come to one of the great dilemmas of social media and the internet: How much efficiency is good? Take online dating, for instance. It’s hard not to feel like a bit of serendipity has left the world of dating when you choose someone via profile. The thing is, how often do people actually meet at a bar for the first time? Meeting people is a difficult task and I would guess the majority of relationships are set up in one way or another. So how different is online dating?

A lot of the fear of the internet comes with the idea that when people open their browser they lose their ability to think critically or make decisions on their own accord. I’m not quite sure why this is, but it’s not new. I remember being in school and having teachers tell me that there was a limit of internet sources I could cite. Their argument was twofold: Firstly, books are inherently more trustworthy because they’ve been printed (which is total bullshit). Secondly, I would be lazy and just pull up whatever it was that showed up in Google and use that to support my thesis. Of course there is absolutely no reason I couldn’t do the same thing in a library, but that never seemed to register.

At the bottom of all this is a fear of efficiency. We don’t like the idea of people working smarter, not harder. Why do something in 15 minutes that could take three hours? I guess it can feel less ‘human’ to be efficient, but it’s not like a human didn’t build that efficiency tool in the first place.

We are evolving. I would guess our brains are quite literally changing.

And we’re building it as we go . . .

December 5, 2006