We've established that things have gotten pretty disconnected in recent years. Career and family ain't what they used to be. It seems time to create intentional social networks and - hey - that's what we're doing!
Personal Webpages exist in the millions. And now that digital cameras are cheap and available in every shape and size, people are putting their photos on the web en masse! Weblogs, the hottest things in personal publishing, are proliferating at a stunning clip and new, easier-to-use blog tools like TypePad will only accelerate this trend.
Email has become a mainstay of our communication system. It provides this incredibly convenient way to stay in touch. Although, there are still a few hold outs, you can count on using email to communicate with just about everyone. Sending out an email to any number of people is almost immediate and practically free - personal publishing any time you want (the magnitude of our spam problem is testimony to this).
Instant Messaging is a way to be closer to our buddies - real time. It gives you a sense of being in the same room with someone. IM is now progressing to real-time audio and video messaging. Apple's new iChat AV, just released in June, is showing great promise for free long distance and video phone if you've got a computer on each end of the line.
Mobile Messaging. With the recent wide availability of smarter cell phones, text messaging and, now, photo messaging are surprising people with their popularity. The Japanese and Scandinavians are crazy for it and the rest of the world is catching on quick! This is even cooler, because it's mobile. You don't have to be sitting at home or limited to times when you are lugging your laptop.
Howard Rheingold's latest book, Smart Mobs, explores the plethora of possibilities this leading edge cellular technology opens up. At the edge, cell phones with built-in global and cellular positioning systems allow you to arrange to be notified when someone of interest (perhaps a buddy) comes into your geographic proximity. Imagine a rock concert or even a crowded evening network event - you suspect that some of your friends are there somewhere -- well, it won't be long before you'll be able to find them and be at choice about whether to make contact. You'll be able to select how visible you want to make yourself - from moment to moment, depending on your mood or need.
All these communication channels are popular and growing. Because of the amazing build-out of global wired and wireless networks, none of these channels require proximity. You can IM or mobile message your friends in Norway, Hong Kong or Katmandu. Of course, you can call just about anyone, anywhere on the globe. But, regular long distance phone can be expensive. Even here, long distance phone rates have dropped dramatically of late. I'm currently using Bigzoo.com prepaid long distance. I get national long distance at 2.9¢/minute and can call from the US to the UK for 2.9¢/min and China for 2.8¢/min.
Add in the vast varieties of new online communities, bulletin boards, commenting and more and it is clear that the options for connecting are enormous and still growing rapidly. Participation in all of these options varies from near zero to near immersion in online and cellular communications. Wearable computing devices including watches, eyeglass cameras and screens are becoming available and the wirelessly networked geek elite is trying these now. These days, it doesn't take more than 18 - 24 months before these edgy toys start going mainstream.
With all these tools and infrastructure, what does our hero, the free agent, do to regain the sense of connection and, at least a semblance of the stability, that was once a standard feature of everyday life? [To be continued]