Can our opinions exist without us?

This article from Jeff Jarvis got me thinking about the evolution of content and opinion over time. Extrapolating past patterns could lead to some bizarre scenarios in future.

(NOTE: the remainder of this blog post is incoherent speculation).

Broadly, the past evolution of storytelling roughly covers four ages

  • Oral stage
  • Hand-written stage
  • Printed stage
  • Multimedia stage

Within this, there have been many trends and patterns in the types of content, the means of production and the methods of consumption.

Many arguments focus on the dumbing down of culture. But instead of rehashing that ground, the article got me thinking about content length

I’m no historian but the following spring to mind:

  • Oral accounts would take pretty long to recount and spread
  • Hand-writing/scribing has similar scalability issues
  • The printing press achieves scalability but also encourages verbosity
  • Newspapers and magazines encourage serialisation and the consumption of articles rather than full-length tracts (I suppose pamphlets come under this heading)
  • The computer age propagates articles, blog posts and shorter-form content
  • Social media reducing creation and consumption time down further – currently at 140 characters

How is this extrapolated further? Two scenarios – one logical progression and one step-change – come to mind

Progession

A logical extension would be to reduce opinion down to its underlying sentiment – why use 140 characters when a single word or gesture will do (thumbs ups, retweets etc all fulfil this function, but alongside other forms of opinion)

It is conceivable that a social media service in future could be a single spectrum of opinion, from like to dislike. Links, names, words etc could be placed on that spectrum. Our contacts would take something we like as a recommendation and consume it, and avoid things we dislike.

Would this work? Probably not, since it has no nuance. It would further encourage the balkanisation of online opinion and, even with a potential velocity measure to capture trajectory of opinion, it would make it difficult for new content to rise upwards.

Step-change

As the shortening of opinion can’t evolve beyond a single word, an obvious revolution would be to move from active to passive.

In other words, once I input parameters or some past behaviour, a service can automatically generate my sentiment to new content that crosses my digital path. With refinement over time, this would become more accurate.

We already have digividuals, based on composites of others. Could we have digi-extensions? Possible, but again unlikely. But it raises some interesting questions about the nature of digital personas. Once my online persona starts acting independently, does it still fully represent my real-world self? If someone died, their digital persona could continue to exist without them although it would cease to evolve.

If you’ve read this far down, then congratulations. This post doesn’t really have a point, or any obvious application, but I wanted to write this down to help formalise my speculation (my thoughts on this were even more jumbled before I started writing). And, on the off-chance that something similar happens around the time of the singularity, then I can go the wayback machine and glow over a small victory.

sk

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