I have been pondering the interaction of technology and our social lives. I saw a project page at MIT called “Social Gardens” that was kind of interesting.
Here’s their description:
“Technology has allowed people to develop larger social networks than previously done. But as a result, we have more relationships than we can manage. Social Gardening explores using plants as metaphor for relationships, hoping to encourage us to tend our social connections like we do our garden. By tracking and analyzing communications through email, instant messaging, social websites, SMS, and phone, Social Gardening proposes to give feedback on how our relationships are flourishing or wilting. It may also provide a practical interface to browse and manage conversations and contacts.”
I was looking at the poster they had created, and you can see in a portion I excerpted above, that some people are shown as potted flowers and Natasha is an unpotted cactus.
This got me wondering – in this metaphorical garden, who was Natasha? Was she represented by a prickly plant because she had ready defenses in her personality? Are the other people in pots because they are somehow insulated from their true natures?
And then I was thinking that if this social garden tool was able to monitor communications to see how much we were tending to others, why not go further and look at the kinds of interactions we are having – are our messages exchanged positive or negative? Are they nurturing us? Are our moods improved after our interactions? Who is initiating contact? There are so many kinds of things we may be able to understand if the transactional data can be extracted, analyzed and then represented in a way that we can see more about their nature than we do now.
And what if we might be able to aggregate our metrics of social interaction so that we have a kind of karmic scorecard? How and when would we want to show others how nice we are to our friends, family, co-workers, and strangers?
Dig around that MIT site and there is another project where cars learn our driving behaviors. They were thinking that this information could be used so that people that practice safe driving could use data collected by their car to lower their insurance rate. But what if this information, which is easily observable externally, could then be displayed for other drivers to see, so that rude drivers may be recognized and conditioned by other drivers, for instance. (So perhaps if your driving quotient being displayed tells people you have been a jerk at every opportunity, then perhaps you’ll never given those little courtesies that are normally given, and until you learn to be nice you’ll never get let into a busy lane again)
If we kept better track of our behavior and our communication, would that help us to be better people, or just give us reason to hide our true natures better?