Hermes is the son of Zeus. He is the messenger. He wears winged sandals, a winged hat, and a magic wand. He is the fastest of the gods. He is the god of thieves and he is the god of commerce. Even when he steals, he does it so gracefully. He is the guide for the dead to go to the underworld. He invented, the pipes, the musical scale, astronomy, weights and measures, boxing, gymnastics and the care of olive trees (*).
Hermes most recently invented the digital technology. Internet and smart phones are the new messengers. They wear winged cases and lids so they can uplift information over iClouds. They are the god of commerce. Even when they steal, they do it so gracefully that we do not even realize. We “check-in” to give Mr. Facebook our geospatial location. Then, our smartphones tell us the closest café we can spend our dollars. You thought 3G was fast, well try 4G. It is the fastest. It makes music for fun: “Share with friends,” “Listen on-the-go.” Digital technology reinvented everything we thought we liked. We like them even better now! They are the guide to go to the Underworld. Black markets are now based around mobile phones (Wired, December-2011). Blackberries and iPhones transformed New York’s sex trade (Wired, January-2011). Zeus bless Hermes. He got really smart this time.
Limitations to Social Networking: Human Brain
Social scientists have been investigating the reason behind the wide dispersion of social networks. Katz (2007) pointed out that digital technology is trendy and convenient. Crawford explained the phenomenon in terms of ‘satisfying the need for reciprocal communication,’ which, by the way, can also occur through listening, according to Crawford. Based on an analysis on Foursquare, Lindqvist, Cranshaw & Wiese (2011) concluded that it is simply the excitement of presentation of self and coordinating with friends. The question is, when we have all these digital tools to satisfy our need for socialization, where do we stop? How many friends are enough? The answer is between 100 and 200. According to Bruno Goncalves, from Indiana University, our brains have a “saturation point,” which is the number of people can tweeters maintain contact with before they get overwhelmed. The study conducted on Twitter users illustrated that when information starts flooding from our social circles, we only tend to focus on the ones we have strong ties with. So, just because we can increase our social ties does not necessarily mean we can socialize more. It is not enough to have a digital presence, but now one has to compete for attention.
(Courtesy photo by Goncalves, Perra, Vespignani, 2011) "The average weight of each outward connection gradually increases until it reaches a maximum near 150–200 contacts, signaling that a maximum level of social activity has been reached."
Lindqvist, Cranshaw & Wiese (2011) brought up the public concern about privacy in their study. Privacy, arguably, has always been one of the biggest drawbacks of technology. Even though the society vocalizes this concern from time to time, the problem simply has been escalating over the years. It was only 2001, when Wired magazine ran the headline: the Surveillance Society. Back then it was just regular phones, traffic cameras, EZ cards, and Bluetooth that raised concern. At the time, the society was scared of government ‘knowing too much.’ We were trading privacy for security. We are now trading privacy for entertainment using more sophisticated tools. It is also noteworthy how the biggest threat Wired could foresee for our privacy, when the article was written, was ‘nano-cameras.’ Fast-forwarding a decade, most of us probably wish nano-cameras were the problem.
“Orwell's greatest error, says Peter Huber, author of Orwell's Revenge, was his view that [only] the government had a monopoly on surveillance technologies.” (Wired, 9/12).
Goncalves B, Perra N, Vespignani A (2011) Modeling Users’ Activity on Twitter Networks: Validation of Dunbar’s Number. PLoS ONE 6(8): e22656.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022656
Lindqvist, J., Cranshaw, J., Wiese, J., Hong, J., & Zimmerman, J. (2011). I’m the mayor of my house: Examining why people use foursquare – a social-driven location sharing application. CHI.
Katz, J. (2007) Mobile media and communications: Some important questions. Communication Monographs, 74(3), 389-394.