As I begin writing this post, everyone around me is connected, but not with each other, or their surroundings, but with the digital world; facebook, twitter, 24hr news streaming and online entertainment. I’m sitting at Circular Quay station, one of Sydney’s busiest and better known with great views of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and harbour. Leaning against the rail, a woman scrolls through a feed on her iphone, six other iphones are near me, their owners repeating the same behaviour. A man leans against the wall watching a video on his galaxy note, several other people immersed in their smart phones stand either side and two people sit on a bench reading from iPads. Once I board my train there are only 3 people that aren’t interacting with a screen of some sort. It’s an interesting and strange public notion. While every one of them is speaking to someone, looking at photos or engaging in some form of social activity but each is simultaneously doing so in their own world.
Within urban precincts especially, social media and advances in technology allow people to share experiences with one another without even being there. Shared experiences now allow greater connectivity not only with each other but with the places we visit. Dealings with an invisible social capital are now as important as the physical attributes somewhere is made up of.
The popularisation of facebook, twitter, instagram are driving an apparent innate human quality to document ourselves and each other. We know this at Trending City. While we have ‘spotters’ in neighbourhoods across the world, we have initially connected with them via social media. We see examples of technology both enriching and inhibiting our lives. The recent debate in NYC over the potential use of unmanned drones to observe cities echoes themes of a dystopic future in Orwell’s 1984, how such policies would shape urban design is a question for another day. However the ability to take videos and photos and share these via the internet has also made the streets safer and individuals more accountable for their actions - for example the prosecution of a middle aged woman for a racial tirade on a train in Melbourne last week.
The question is does the interwoven nature of technology and culture benefit the public? The answer would seem to be yes. Social experiences are augmented by technology, digital networks drive the development of the public domain. The popularization of pocket bars and new cafes are marketed around their unique nature. Pop-Up events and low-tech self-made interventions often cause as much commotion through viral videos and photography as big commercial events. Launches inevitably go hand in hand with a social media site which is then their main if not only way to spread popularity, a turnaround of social-capital never before attainable in such a short period of time without social media.
The creation of successful community spaces, much like social networks, rely on the interactions of people who may otherwise have never come into contact with each other. These interactions, much like facebook, twitter and instagram, is what makes places so valuable and is the driving force behind them. As much as we are a digital generation, we value physical over digital, the adoption rates are telling. According to an article by ‘Socialnomic’ “Years to Reach 50 millions Users: Radio (38 Years), TV (13 Years), Internet (4 Years), iPod (3 Years)…Facebook added 100 million users in less than 9 months…iPhone applications hit 1 billion in 9 months”. People need people and this is affecting the ways in which we perceive space and create places. The continual creation, curation and sharing of data across the globe reflects this and the fact that you have stayed reading.
What are your thoughts? Are you connected to the world? And in what way?