Waves of Personalization

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   Pardon my yapping at the Virtuality category, but I’m still stuck in a moment when it comes to writing about virtual environments.  When you write a thesis, it gets tattooed on your mind, so to speak.  For now, let’s (by the collective term I mean “I”) talk about “personal technology.”

   Steve Jobs talks about “revolution” a lot: not that he’s the Karl Marx or the Salvador Allende of technology, but there is something “revolutionary” about the iPod (or for that matter, anything “i” that will surface in the next few years until he decides to use “j”).  Jobs’ project is a classic example of what I call “waves of personalization.”

   I’ve been watching a documentary on Roman engineering awhile ago: it’s been a while since my last World History class, but I was reminded of public baths.  Bathing, to us in modern times, is a strictly private activity: unless you’re a prostitute in a back-alley strip club floor show getting soaped up with a laundry bar by old perverts, you won’t bathe in public.  Given this example, it is easy to see the transitions that have taken place in terms of space.  While these changes and transitions have been dramatic, I’m not saying that we have effectively ditched the marketplace in favor of online groceries.

   This is at the risk of being called an “evolutionist,” but using the term loosely, life is “evolving” from public space to personal space.  However, this is not universal in virtual environments: while there is evidence of this “evolution” in chatrooms, there is a case against it in cybersex, which is articulated over long distances but still done in the relative privacy of one’s own room (or one’s own rented terminal in an Internet shop, at the very back row where there are cubicles).

   To invoke Karl Marx, the transition from communal property to private property has made significant changes not only in the economy, but in life itself.  In the 1950s to the 1970s, jukeboxes were centers of social activity.  Even before that, listening to the phonograph was social.  Nowadays, music has become more personal with the iPod and other portable MP3 players (like Microsoft’s Zune and China’s Artech), and way before in the 1970s with the original Sony Walkman.

   Or take photography: before, it took a studio to create a portrait.  Nowadays, digital cameras have become so small that you can fit the entire thing inside a really small phone.  Now, you can literally take a picture of yourself.

   In my random “theorizing,” I thought of at least four possible “waves of personalization” that come in no particular order:

  • The availability of personal technologies in the market (capitalism);
  • The increasing public perception of the necessity of personal technologies to everyday life (although that is debatable);
  • The shift from the shared sense of community to the shared sense of individualism (Gemeinschaft/Gessellschaft, for you sociologists);
  • The resurgence of wealth and the proportional resurgence of leisure (I think that a study could graph that).

   Waxing on this matter makes me think if technology has sort of become a “shell” that keeps human beings from interacting socially.  Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to hear of people who die from excessive gaming or cellphone theft.  Television text chatrooms become social venues, but “eyeball” becomes ever more rare these days.  Social interaction is no longer confined to physical space, but virtual space as well.

   But is it even personal?  Are one’s earphones Marxian chains, or is a smartphone the new “opium of the people?”

   More on that tomorrow.

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