06 March 2006

Communication as a tool for self-awareness

All within ten minutes of perusing the RSS feeds I stream through via Netvibes, I had an interesting idea. The problem with interesting ideas — at least in my case — is that I often lack the vernacular by which to explain them. Then I forget them. No good.

First, I came across NEC's Kotohana Emotion Flower, via Information Aesthetics:
Each KOTOHANA set consists two flower-shaped terminals equipped with LEDs that change color according to the emotions of the person who owns the counterpart. Each flower contains a microphone that captures voice data for processing, the results of which are sent via wireless LAN to the other terminal, where it is expressed as LED light.

KOTOHANA’s Sensibility Technology (ST) emotion recognition engine, which was developed by SGI Japan with the cooperation of AGI, detects joy, sorrow, calmness and excitement in speech patterns. Happiness is expressed as yellow, sadness as blue, calmness as green, and excitement as red. Changing emotions are expressed through subtle color gradations and variations in light brightness.

Then, on Does Size Matter?, Niti Bhan finally "gets" Web 2.0, not as an aesthetic or business model, but as an openness, a release of control and the empowerment of the people. Peter Merholz sums it up thusly:
A blog or a podcast does not Web 2.0 make. Web 2.0 is fundamentally about relinquishing control, putting creative power in the hands of your users, and developing systems that benefit from such communal use. Such concepts are anathema to the thought, philosophy, and practice of "elite design agencies."

Designers as enablers versus designers as formgivers.
This doesn't make sense to me, because there's hardly a business on earth for whom their online strategy isn't a key component. Because, and this is the thing a lot of people still don't get, "Web 2.0" isn't about the web. The web is where it most obviously plays out, but web 2.0 is about relinquishing control, embracing openness and transparency, demonstrating actual authenticity, and empowering your customers to create, and leveraging that creativity to make better experiences for everyone. As the LEGO Mindstorms article in Wired discussed, this isn't simply about web sites — it's about introducing new paradigms to improve businesses' chance of success.

Further yet, an article on "Useful Distinctions in Social Software," by Dion Hinchcliffe, draws a pretty pictures. Literally:

For now, an examination of existing social software seems to derive the scale of the social community along the intensity of social interaction as the two most important. But I'd love to hear your feedback on this.

Thus, social interaction can range from being nothing more than a one-on-one experience, all the way up to a very large private social club. Or it can even be the entire world. Likewise, the temporal aspect of social interaction seems to be extremely important. It can be intense, real-time communication via instant messaging or MMOG interaction. Or it might be regularly periodic, like e-mail. Increasingly common, it can even be completely aperiodic or once ever, like referring to a social bookmark or social guide. The only thing this seems to miss is the increasingly multimedia social experience that involves audio, video, and more.

Lastly, I am trying to load WikiTree, which I came across via Digg. The servers were just crushed by all the Digg traffic, so I'll have to check it out later, but the concept is thus:
One of the main aims of the WikiTree Project is to provide a central place on the Internet for kin information about all people we know ever lived, automatically construct bloodline trees, and watch the gradual emergence of global family forest of humanity.

As many should know, I am not particularly fond of the ego and its trappings. I acknowledge that the ego is necessary in our everyday functioning and we require it for social interaction and to garner wisdoms that allow us to grow more complex wisdoms, the ego is a concept all should be aware of in order to know when to act within and without its constraints, depending on the situation and opportunity for spiritual development.

So let's say we all had Kotohana Flowers, displayed prominently for the world to see. A unfiltered understanding of whether a person in your social network was feeling glum, cheerful, or whatever else. (Emotional semantics aside for now.) Applying an open approach and allowing others to make you feel whichever way they choose, and they can accurately gauge the results of their actions. Would we learn more about the person we're affecting, or ourselves?

A few posts ago (link), I posted a chart linking to a "Nohari" test, which allows persons you know to select descriptive words about you. Except that all the descriptives are negative. I had people I know fill out one version with a bunch of positive words, but that was hardly anything new. What I found from the Nohari test was that people didn't want to isolate any negative traits about me — even refused to in some cases.

Currently, I am apparently well known for being vulgar, chaotic, insensitive, aloof, distant, and smug. I know, these words are hardly scathing. My friend Jeremy said the test was inaccurate because he couldn't choose "Ukrainian" as one of my negative traits, so of course it's going to be broad in its scope.

The neat thing is that I learn more about the person filling out the Nohari test about me than I learn about myself. 25% said I was blasé, and I may be in relation to their perspective of the world, but take someone like my ex, Sarah, for a minute and she's lived in Canada, the Dutch Antilles, the Netherlands, and travelled all over, as far as I'm concerned. So to me, she would be blasé. (Though I'd never use that word, as I know everyone has a weakness of perspective allowing for further, new growth.) In contrast, I believe it may have been Sarah that said I was "simple" via the Nohari, the only person to do so. Does that make me a simpleton, or does it reflect a part of our dynamic? Some people said I was "unethical," but to others I am rigid in my ways regarding honour and rights. Harsher, perhaps, so unethical to those with a broader bleeding heart sort of ethical standpoint, but I have a way to me, no question about it.

I suppose this also sort of reminds me of Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk, in which the protagonist suffers the whims of his acquaintances and strangers. In order to let them satiate a personal demon or aspect of themselves, he becomes a Christ-like in his constant sacrifice. (He also does it to get people to send him gifts and money after the fact, which is what makes it a wry Palahniuk tale.)

By issuing myself unto the mercy of those I know, I can elicit elements they're often personally unaware of. For example, in my case, I am quick to pre-judge attractive women. This has turned out to be both a bit of a boon and a bane.

An obvious boon in that the liberal social mores is that stereotyping is "bad," and I am often accused of any number of things because I believe all pretty women are idiots. Now, statistically, a majority of aesthetically appealing women tend to rely more on their looks to get ahead, but no one wants to hear that. On the other hand, I've come to learn that many very intelligent women are also very aware of how to handle their own personal aesthetic and beauty, but they are in the minority. They also tend to have issues of vanity and self-esteem issues just like the pretty dumb girls, and these issues can often manifest themselves even harsher in the smart ones — simply due to their intelligence and capacity to fully flesh-out the conundrum. In a way, the sexy dumb girl is almost getting off easier.

For an interesting look at profiling and "stereotyping," please read this article in the The New Yorker, by Malcolm Gladwell.

And just looking over we make money not art, I found a piece on a genetically altered plant that glows when it is thirsty. Further than communicating emotions relatively as the Kotohana Flowers do, this is cross-regnum communication, bridging kingdoms in biology.

Ooh. I just thought of links I could associate to all this with previous posts on teleology and Here Be Dragons, as well as the PEAR programme at Princeton.

We can learn more about ourselves by stretching the limits of our interactions with others. How I treat another person or animal — or even plant — is a reflection of my internal machinations and dispositions. I will continue this in a later post…

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