When it comes to new stuff, particularly technological stuff, I typically like to stay on top of it. I have been a tech “geek” for some time (my first computer was a Commodore 64) and although my interest has morphed away from an internal, “hands on” perspective, I still have a keen interest in cutting edge technology. The same cannot be said for new interfaces, however. When I was a Windows aficionado, I resisted Windows 95, 98, NT 4.0, 2000, finally ending my Windows experience with XP. Likewise, my transition to Apple and Mac OS X was also met with initial resistance, but the Mac's benefits were soon realized.
It is not my intent to write a polemic against the Windows OS or to champion the Macintosh, but rather to examine this odd inconsistency I have with embracing new and faster hardware while resisting the software interfaces that maximize it. Obviously there is comfort in familiarity and there is always a learning curve involved when new conventions are developed and deployed, but my resistance, I think, has less to do with the learning curve than it does with jumping on the bandwagon. In fact, it might be true that if I was a beta tester for these new interfaces – if I had access to them right from the beginning, I might have a much different perspective.
There is some evidence to support this notion. First, some hardware necessarily requires learning new software. Although numerous examples exist, one of the most recent would be my conversion to the iPhone. No, I was not one of the first to have one – I waited until Apple drastically reduce the initial price, but I did acquire one relatively early on and went about the task of figuring it out with great enthusiasm. The learning curve was not a hindrance and although the accolades of the iPhone were abundant, it usage had not yet reached critical mass. I was not just another Blackberry user anymore.
There are other instances of new hardware driving new software interfaces - and I did not resist. But what about when the hardware is established and new software is developed? History would tell me that I am not anxious to follow the masses… that combined with a comfort level and, perhaps, a satisfaction with proven performance, I am not willing to venture away. It is certainly the case with the many “social networking” platforms (which I’ll address shortly) currently available. But when it comes to getting a hold of a brand new operating system not yet released, it would appear that I am somewhat more compliant. In fact, I have been running successive beta versions of iPhone OS 3.x for several weeks now.
No bandwagons here, and there are significant improvements and additions to the previous OS. Soon, however (less than a week, tentatively), the rest of the world will have it as well. At the same time, the new and improved iPhone 3G [S] will be released. Yes, of course I will get one as soon as possible – it is hardware after all. But all of this preceding “insight” is a long way around to getting to what I set out to do… namely, crystallizing my thoughts on social networking. As is often the case, I am not sure what will come out until I write it, but I have some thoughts that have been spawned by the latest “craze,” Twitter.
As I resisted new operating systems, and other software that “replaces” software that I have grown accustomed to, so too, I have resisted certain platforms that ostensibly facilitate social interaction. Not all, I was an early AOL subscriber and although the “chat room” was a novelty that proved to be entertaining, it was fleeting; it got old fast, as did AOL. It could have been due to the extreme anonymity (nobody was who they said they were) or simply the superficiality of it all, but whatever the reason, “chat” (whether in a dedicated room or on a one-to-one basis), for me, remains relegated to necessity or opportunity rather than a regular channel of communication.
When blogging became all the rage, I resisted. When I finally jumped on the bandwagon, I found it to be communication on a much deeper level. True, there are blogs that are little more than cyber vomit, but many are produced by those who have something intelligent to say – and many of those are well-written to boot (though intelligence and good writing do not necessarily require one another. Likewise, there is plenty of well-written spew, but I digress). The point is that most of the blogosphere contains more than just a “status update.”
Which leads me to the next evolutionary step in social networking, Myspace. Again, I resisted for a very long time. I had a number of preconceptions, many of which were valid, but when I finally acquiesced, I found it to be a very good tool to stay in touch with a large number of my “friends” with minimal effort. Of course, there is a downside in that the “work” involved in maintaining a relationship is greatly reduced, but in my case I still used the tried and tested means of personal interaction, in person, with my real “friends.” Facebook does what Myspace does, but better and with it I found a number – a large number – of old friends and acquaintances that I likely never would have otherwise. It is a feet that Classmates claims to do (for a price), but fails miserably.
Now there’s Twitter, and I am resisting. I know “everybody’s doing it” and I know that it has attained a great deal of media favoritism, but I cannot see how mass-texting across the Internet will enhance an already robust social network. Furthermore, it is beyond me why anyone really cares if or when I am taking out the garbage or going to the store or any of the other minutia in my daily life. And I’m sorry, I don’t care about the minutia of yours either. Granted, without any direct experience with Twitter, I am likely missing everything it offers, some of which I might actually find valuable. But I will wait this one out. I have heard it is here to stay, much like that upstart technology, email. We’ll see – in the meantime, I’ll stick with what I know.