Wednesday, 28 May 2014

"We Shape Our Tools And Then Our Tools Shape Us."

"We shape our tools and then our tools shape us."
- Marshall McLuhan

Funny thing, how humans are. I like watching how the tools people shape, in turn shape them. The how and how fast they...we...are reshaped by the trappings, incisions and sculptings of our own instruments and devices. It's organic. It's fascinating. Correction: I love watching it.

Sometimes the reshaping unfolds with such organic poetry in motion, drawing us in with stealth and charm, we don't see it coming and, too soon, we can't look away. It's not always poetic, however. And, I imagine, that'd depend on the kind of poetry you're into. It's not always in motion - I'm thinking rhythmic. But, it is always organic.

Our new tools shape us and compel us to take on new norms. And, especially when these tools are tools of communication, and space abounds to interact with other humans, the new norms and unwritten rules grow quickly.

The premise upon which these norms and rules are built is simple - simple and strong and timeless. They are borne of, and rely on, the distinctiveness and predictability of the human condition. We need to belong; to be a part of something or someone. We need to feel we matter. We need to know that what we do has value - and so on.

Enter, Social Media. Specifically, those spaces that give users opportunities to vote/like/fav others' posts/images and what not. I imagine that's, like, all of them, right? I'm here, and on Twitter. Two platforms. That's about as much input from folks in cyberspace I choose to allow in my sphere. I've popped over to Instagram to check out pics when a few tweeps share an IG link - and I care. I'm no longer on FB - too psychologically demanding. (We've talked about that, yes?) Even comment sections in online newspapers allow readers to rate the quality/value of their fellow readers' thoughts. At every turn, if you wish to express an opinion or share a thought, you may expect to be rated/judged/marked.

Some rely on this. Some - it would seem - live for the sort of adulation showered upon them in these open spaces. The struggle for validation is real. It is such a waste of the person one is, but, it does happen.

What fascinates me, though, is that the rules are made up and applied as we go along - and how. We start using the tool and we institute our own rules - unknown to anyone else - regarding how we're going to "do this thing." Soon, as interactions and fans/friends/followers multiply; as we note their own rules and interact accordingly, something begins to happen. A general consensus and understanding begins to take shape about how we interact and why we now interact the way we do. A quick example is the fav/star button on Twitter. In the beginning, it was used primarily for that. You hit the star if the tweet was a favorite. Over time, people began to fav tweets for many reasons. I now do it for three reasons: I want to read it later. (It's easier to find in your favs than to go hunting it down in your tweep's, or, worse, some stranger's timeline.) I want to acknowledge someone who's mentioned/tagged me, but I don't want to have a convo. I want to end a convo with a tweep but without words. So, again with the acknowledgement bit. Oh, four. I actually like the tweet. Heh heh.

Look, there's no Twitter commandment that says thou shalt not steal tweets. Yet, people copy others' tweets and tweet them as if they were their own all the time. And if someone repeatedly does that, persons will not like it and they are likely to unfollow or block that user. Why? For the same reason you'd not want to associate with a thief, or someone who plagiarizes, in real life. It may be an online space, but associations and interactions are real and moving - for the most part. The bots and spammers get no love whatsoever. We get in. We pick up on little cues and norms. We figure out what's what, perhaps with some guidance along the way. Pretty soon, we find our comfort zone in how we want to "do this thing." Who people are in real life is what they come to the online space with if they are genuine in their interactions. Just give 'em time. It'll all come out in the wash. That's why the norms are so easily established. And the new norms - unique to that particular online space - arise partly because "the medium is the message" (McLuhan) and also because...humans.

What's also interesting is how some folks, over time, move away from their, well, their "original persona" as followers and such, grow. After all, one is now popular and has influence. Some go the route of commenting in a more, 'ow you saay, responsible manner. Others, not so much. It is true that these spaces can and do entice us to assume a different persona from the one we started out with, especially when we're chasing popularity. Who's to say which are the true colors?

I just recalled a lil quote by President George "Dubya" Bush during an interview after he'd left the presidency: "If you chase popularity, you're chasing a moment. You're chasing a poof of air." Thought I'd share it. You're welcome. :-)

The Quiet Zone
Several months ago, GO Transit introduced the Quiet Zone on the top floor of every coach of all their trains during rush hour. Now, prior to this designated Quiet Zone, any car of most GO trains were near deathly quiet. Well, I understand there was one line that had folks talking loudly in the evenings. Looks like people complained. GO did a pilot project with that particular line. And the rest is what we have here.

Before the Quiet Zone, on the Lakeshore West in the mornings - and evenings, come to think of it - you could hear a pin drop. There was the occasional conversation but these were few and far between and in hushed tones. The majority of commuters were plugged in or reading or catching a snooze.

Then came the Quiet Zone. Signs went up. The Customer Service Ambassadors (CSA) included it in their welcome announcements. All was mostly well with the world. That is, until a newbie or two, oblivious to the signs and announcements, would start talking. I'd sit in amusement as I watched other passengers squirm or give the person the look. As a matter of fact, I've even seen folks who could no longer contain their angst triggered by someone having a quiet phone conversation, get up from their seat, or turn around in their seat, and direct the talker's attention to the sign. Or, say to the transgressor, "This is the Quiet Zone, you can't be talking on the phone." Yeah. That happened.

Fact is, the sign in the QZ says short telephone conversations are okay; use your ear piece to listen to music and make sure it's not loud enough for anyone else to hear. That sort of thing. But, you know, now we have become accustomed to the Zone being deathly quiet. The least bit of interruption of the silence, and folks will get up and leave the Zone. I kid you not. I have seen that happen, too.

GO Transit created the Quiet Zone tool for the comfort of passengers, when most of the passengers were already comfortable and accommodating of a bit of ambient noise. Now, passengers have been programmed to expect Bose headphones quiet and many are now easily irritated when they hear a pin drop.



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