by Josh Kimball
Minneapolis bridge collapse, mediated: the truly execrable local. Since the local highway bridge’s collapse came during the approximately one hour per day that I’m not immersed in 12 kinds of media (I usually help put the months-old Dude to bed between 6pm and 7pm), and since the cell was upstairs in my office and on vibrate during this time, I heard about it the old-fashioned way: via IM – immediately upon hopping onto the laptop, before I could go to my feed reader, browse a news site or bring my e-mail application to the front, I got pinged.
Because of my work situation (virtual office, IM-heavy collaboration, directly wired to brains pretty much instantly available and knowledgable in highly targeted areas of expertise), day-to-day, the real-time human social network (facilitated usually by IM), for me, functions as a breaking news alert and the best possible recommendation engine (videos, articles, music, stories; all get filtered and passed on in an ultimately very efficient way). It also runs neck-and-neck with Google and Wikipedia for getting to relevant, reliable information fast. Why sift through 12,000 Google results for the answer to an esoteric car question when I can get an answer immediately from a Yahoo! IM buddy with deep domain knowledge and nuanced understanding of information sources who can filter for what he understands are my personal tastes?
The real-time human network requires a lot – people online, instantly available and skilled at remote-but-immediate communication – but what it offers on both a day-to-day basis (in work situations) and times of crisis is an amped-up, highly targeted Wiki-like information filter – without the asynchronicity. A while ago for work I wrote about the changing assumptions of connectivity for consumers (article title: “I’m On, Therefore I Am”). A default setting of being electronically able to access and be accessed by a wide network of people in real time has its share of challenges and problems. But sometimes, it’s not so bad…