More vocal and alone. Sext me?

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Last month I finished authoring a chapter submission on how social artifacts mediate the deluge of content a social network consumes and how diversity of participation is an imperative to keep us from French inhaling our tweets. We are living in a time of content explosion – this was news back in 2003 when a UC Berkeley study summarizes the prior year’s information detonation:

1. Print, film, magnetic, and optical storage media produced about 5 exabytes of new information in 2002. Ninety-two percent of the new information was stored on magnetic media, mostly in hard disks.

2. We estimate that the amount of new information stored on paper, film, magnetic, and optical media has about doubled in the last three years [1999-2001].

3. Information flows through electronic channels — telephone, radio, TV, and the Internet – contained almost 18 exabytes of new information in 2002, three and a half times more than is recorded in storage media. Ninety eight percent of this total is the information sent and received in telephone calls – including both voice and data on both fixed lines and wireless.

How much information? 2003, Peter Lyman and Hal R. Varian

All of which is insanely outdated considering YouTube alone was only founded in 2005 and yet the community produces and views more content than all the commercial production houses – consider in 2008 10 hours of video per minute were uploaded to the site. Since the 2003 study of 2002’s information explosion, we can safely say it has only grown in magnitude since. The eruption of information could easily bee seen as an individual’s need to communicate, which brings us to the modern day where a considerable amount of content is being created, vetted and spread by social networks.

Aric Sigman authored an interesting article in the February issue of Biologist titled, “Well connected? The biological implications of ‘social networking’”, where he presents various findings and side effects of our social affliction.

Britons now spend approximately 50 minutes a day interacting socially with other people (ONS, 2003). Couples now spend less time in one another’s company and more time at work, commuting, or in the same house but in separate rooms using different electronic media devices.

The Office for National Statistics has just reported that “over the last two decades the proportion of people living alone doubled”, a trend now highly pronounced in the 25-44 age group.

A study by the Children’s Society recently found that television alone is displacing the parental role, eclipsing “by a factor of five or ten the time parents spend actively engaging with children”. Another ongoing study reports that 25% of British five-year olds own a computer or laptop of their own. In particular, the study noted an enormous increase in ‘social networking’ among younger children which “has overtaken fun (online games) as the main reason to use the Internet”.

“Well connected? The biological implications of ‘social networking’”, Aric Sigman, Biologist

All of this is shown to affect health and for that matter society. Family is a historically critical element of survival. It is the embedded network that should be active for life.   Yet, we see that even among married couples there is less interaction even when sharing the same physical spaces. Consider that population of 25-44 year olds that are living alone and likely having less long-term intimacy and as such fewer babies. One could see this as an expression of independence. Either way, it is an alarming trait. We are expressing more than ever, constructing our identity, in some cases identities, and yet are physically more alone than ever. The Internet equals social equals the primary content of our youth, bypassing the parental input that has developed generations prior.

One-third said they have posted or sent racy images of themselves, and almost half have received them.

Teens’ nude photos get unexpected results, Irene Sege, Boston Globe

It is not surprising that teens would use their devices to express their sexual curiosity and interests. The porn industry paved the way for almost all commercial transactions, streaming video technology and collaboration tools. Scary, but true. Mobile devices make it easy for our pervy teens to be more out there than ever. If you can see it on FaceBook, you know the real material is floating over the mobile network. One might conclude that this level of openness is part of a generation change and thus a societal shift. There are likely others hoping our virtual fetish means teens are not having sex, clearly not the case. Sigman (the guy who write the article for the Biologist) was making a point, that it is not common for a physician to advise on a patients sex life, and yet he feels that is exactly what needs to happen. As we grow further apart, we lose some of what keeps us healthy (sexual intimacy being part of that). Teens sext, teens have sex and yet as a society we have less meaningful relationships. What exactly would Sigman have to say about this? Maybe we need to do a study on our youth, as they are the future of the world, we just get to help avoid self-destruction a while longer.

The information explosion and social networking storm are replacing the therapeutic and developmental tools of the past. Instead of parents and therapists, people are in a constant creation and editing of their identities through new media. If the online world is the safe place to explore one’s self, then why has it become a destination to a better reality? What is fascinating is that our growing immersion into a hyper-virtual-reality, where we mentally masturbate around all things “me”, is removing us from our social reality where our developed selves act and all the while, evolving into a sexually explicit twittified frenzy. Forgive me, I missed the sexting revolution, I was too busy typing on my BlackBerry, what was that?