Digital locality and friendship stasis

Dealing with mobile phones and NFC teaches about a few things about your surroundings. A simple way to model the world is to divide it to a few ranges:

  • Proximity - the range of touch. These are the objects that are most immediate to you, both in time and place: the laptop, the chair, your clothes, and so on.
  • Vicinity - the range of things around you which can impact you at a moment's notice. For example, the items in the same room. People don't matter if they're standing outside your room, but when they walk in, you take notice.
  • Shouting distance - Anything you can affect, but typically does not affect you unless you make it so.
  • The world - All the rest.

NFC works purely in the proximity range, but the different technologies we use change the rest. For example, a mobile phone brings anyone in your phonebook to the shouting distance, negating the effects of location.

So does the internet - and people. I've lately noticed how I keep tabs with people whom I know mostly from the digital world, but a lot of the physical world friends I don't keep up nearly as well with. Without a constant trickle of twitter or blog feed these friendships go into a stasis - unpacked the moment we see and we can continue again from where we left off.

So, thinking of the regular spacetime distances, what would be the digital equivalents?

  • Proximity - the people who gave you access to their private feeds, and the people who you have given access to yours. The person you are IMming to right now, or chatting with in IRC, or talking over the phone to. The person who just sent you an email that you have to read.
  • Vicinity - people whom you follow in Twitter or Jaiku or whose blog you've subscribed to. Your Facebook "friends". People whose statuses flow into your browser but you don't feel compelled to keep up to date on every single one of them.
  • Shouting distance - the invisible crowd who follow you in the different social services. Your blog readers who rarely comment, but who might link to you. The people in your address book that you don't call or text or mail.
  • The world - Orkut and all the other services that you never registered to and don't care at all about. As the old maps used to say, "here be Googles".

Of course, these are not static. Someone might pop into your proximity from the shouting distance by sending you an email about a blog post that touched him. Or people can flow out of your vicinity by becoming boring.

It is interesting to note how most of the social services are expanding the "vicinity" area at the cost of the shouting distance or the proximity - they invent new ways for you to concentrate on one thing (moving things out of your proximity field), but on the other hand they allow stuff from the shouting distance to flow in. It's when you start misusing these tools (like making Facebook or Twitter your primary hobby = move it to proximity) you'll start to see the limitations they have.

The question is - what tools are still missing from the different digital ranges? And is this an useful analogy which teaches us some insight into the world? And what to do with the half-eaten jar of Ben&Jerry's Chunky Monkey in my freezer?




Comments

I can answer the last question: we could walk over some day and eat it - I think the youngest of us would also be delighted at monkey ice cream. :)

--Pare, 08-Jul-2008


It's MINE, I tell you! MINE!

--JanneJalkanen, 08-Jul-2008


...aaand it's gone.

--JanneJalkanen, 08-Jul-2008


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