My Life is the Reality of Others

For some reason this has popped up a few times over the past few days: How our lives are being fundamentally changed by the increase of data (or knowledge) that we are able to tap into.

Increase your awareness, everybody.

Last week I had a conversation with a fellow who’s done rather well for himself.  So well, he teaches little MBA classes on business.  One of the trends he has started to notice is how much data is fundamentally changing our lives.

Before, you had your world.  Your city, your town, your home.  And, because it was expensive to travel, phone, and information came by slow means such as newspapers or the nightly newscast, your were more ingrained with what was tangible, touchable.  You could see, hear, smell, and taste your world – as it were.  But now, with the internet, Skype, Twitter, Facebook… this blog… it is easy to pass information around like you are playing a rapid game of Pong with your head.  We are able to bat back and forth so much data that we can become obsessed with ideas half a world away or grasp concepts which literally hit the news an hour ago.

I think the term they use for this is crowd sourcing.  Lots of social media folks like to talk about crowds.  Crowds dictate, they can create… and they can also become mobs.  And there has been a lot of study on mob mentality.  Look at how we grasp on to things like the Koran book burning threat.  Or how the conservatives can rattle out news that shows hate against the homosexual/lesbian population.  Or, just to end on a positive note, how people can set up and start donating to major disaster causes like the Haitian earthquake.

At the same time, because of the information, we are becoming transparent.  We are living lives online that used to be green text on a black screen.  No more.  We have pictures, we have avatars, we have icons we have all sorts of things that tell the world everything about ourselves.  People have been fired for posting irritated tweets about their boss, or had a bad photo from a party or a Photoshop image ruin their school career.  There are advice posts about how to literally create two lives – your professional life and your personal life – online.  Fifteen years ago people would’ve only known me as a 6th level elfin ranger, but today people know me – even if they don’t know me – from my tweets, posts, and occasional professional updates.

Now, I’m not saying this is bad – not completely.  But what I’m aware of is that my reality is being dictated by others.  And while some of it is good, and being part of the global interface is good, I think what we need to remember is the present.  The here and now.  Because if I let myself get swept into the data, then I run the risk of losing a sense of self.

It’s very Buddhist of me – to tell you all to live in the present.  But sometimes we need to sit back, look around, and touch, feel, taste, and smell.  Ain’t no sense in losing all of our senses to the digital universe.


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