Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Digital Voyeurism

One of my favourite passtimes growing up in Sydney was to sit on the Town Hall steps or pick an elevated vantage point on Pitt Street Mall as watch the world go by. Specifically I used to watch people. Look at how they were dressed, the expression on their face. Observing and enjoying raw human emotion. I would watch couples stroll arm in arm and theorise about how long they had been a couple, whether they were married or if they would marry. This voyeuristic pass time also included ogling pretty girls that went by, critiquing the way people were dressed and when I was in the mood I would invent entire stories about these stranger based purely on their appearance and body language.

That was about a decade ago when I had the time just to sit and do nothing. Now with work, wife & 2 kids, I scarcely have time to watch my own family let alone watch perfect strangers. Enter Social Media.

I started using twitter not too long ago and quickly discovered an entire universe of people who are willing to provide a running commentary on their life. Granted that most of the people who tweet are geek bloggers of some kind, some twiiterers genuinely provide a good commentary on what they are doing on an almost minute by minute basis. Take @DavidFeng for instance. I know he is documenting the beijing subway for a That's Beijing project. I know his opinions about a range of subjects, I know where he works, what he does and as you read this there is a high probability that I know where he is exactly. Another example is @ChristineLu who, although does not tell you what she is doing as much as David, she is a wealth of information if you need it
and if she doesn't know the answer about something that is China or Social Networking related, she will most likely be following someone who does.

So you can see that I have simple replaced my people watching to digital form of watching however, however in real life my voyeurism was contained to public places. I didn't peek into peoples windows, I didn't chat randomly to strangers and I certainly was not aware of what people were really thinking. Most people I see have not only a twitter profile, but a facebook or a myspace profile, a personal blog, possibly contribute to community blog sites, a flickr account as well as a youtube page. Not that I complain because I am able to create real personality profiles of the people I am following but is it beginning to border on being a peeping tom? When does following become stalking? When does a twitter friend become a real one?

Now as I like to theorise about the future? If twitter actually gets more funding given the absense of an obvious revenue model, what will be the next step. Voice recognition tweets? Thought recognition twitter? How far are we really to becoming one global organism?

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