Drifting through my infoverse this week has been the phrase “what if the signal is the noise?” I can’t figure out where it was first coined, unfortunately, as I couldn’t find it in Google, del.icio.us (where I believe I first encountered it) or Technorati. (Plz help.)
Anyway, I’m ignoring “real work” this morning in favor of catching up with my del.icio.us bookmarks and Google Reader items while monitoring Twitter, Pounce and Gmail. There is usually a pretty decent signal-to-noise ratio with these mechanisms, because my friends and I tend to have somewhat similar interests. My del.icio.us network is heavily tipped towards other people investigating or studying social media, for example, and my Twitter friends tend to post memes that I enjoy. But this still assumes that the importance is the “noise” in the “signal”, finding the “importance” in the big cloud of links, comments, reviews, memes, essays, YouTube videos, etc. that we’re all confronted with daily.
For example, in the last hour I:
- Checked my LJ friends list
–Watched the new Kanye West Video based on a friend’s LJ post
— and posted a comment on the interplay of black and white culture on the LJ of my friend who posted the Kanye West video, based on a book (“The History of Hip”) that I’m reading
–Checked out the “Way of the Awesome” blog
–Read danah’s new essay responding to comments on her Facebook/MySpace issue, and thought very briefly about the class implications of my status project and how to best integrate class analysis into the proposal; then thought about how tired I am of the privileging of quantitative data and how many shoddy quantitative studies there are; then contemplated blogging about that, then decided it would not be in my best interests
–Read through Metroblogging LA’s “famous fictional Los Angelenos” (and was happy to see Weetzie Bat AND Hiro Protagonist on there. Love!)
–Found out that there’s a third leaked episode of Weeds pre-air on the torrents
–Made mental note to download it later while I’m making lunch
–Noted that Fred had tagged my blog post on Echo Chambers from yesterday
.. and so forth and so on. I bet each of you reading this could put a similar chart together, maybe even in Visio if you’re real geeks. The web is hypertextual. It’s about linking and exploration. It’s not about linearity. It’s more like a game than a causal journey. It’s about leaving pages, learning about things, returning to places where you started, discovering new things, getting distracted. This is the antithesis of what we think of as “work”.
The “what if the signal is the noise” post/essay/blog seemed to be about how all the ephemeral social data we collect from blogs, LiveJournal, Twitter, dodgeball, Pownce, Facebook’s feed, etc. IS the point of all these applications. We don’t check del.icio.us so that we can get a neatly organized list of what’s important. We want to see what kinds of ideas are gaining currency and what people are talking about, to connect to a larger community. I was trying to explain to someone the other day that LiveJournal, for me, is about knowing that my friends are there, that we are co-present, even if we’re not talking. It is the location of self in a larger context that is the antithesis of the alienating internet.
But I also think that consuming all of these small, little pieces of data (music videos, microblogs) is part of gathering data to inform our views of the world. The Kanye West video gave me another example to think through a book that I’m reading. Skimming my del.icio.us network links list enables me to see what my peers are thinking about in terms of social software. So it’s not just connection and location but using hundreds or thousands of sources to build up pictures of things or ideas about things or philosophies or paradigms. My boyfriend reads tons of economics blogs every day. I mostly read blogs about social software, fashion, and consumerism. All the data we consume over the period of a day influences our overall outlook. It keeps us sharp and constantly changing.
Is this an overly optimistic view of meme-land? Of Wired’s snack-size info-bits? Perhaps. And I am probably in the minority of infojunkies in that I also read lots of lengthy essays and books as well, which sometimes means I have no idea what the latest, coolest idea is. But there’s something about this idea of the “infocloud” which creates an almost osmotic understanding of certain concepts. This doesn’t substitute for traditional knowledge or learning, but it is another form of it, perhaps “continuous partial social awareness”? With apologies to Linda Stone, and thanks to Tantek Çelik who I had a great conversation with about this stuff a few days ago.