Sunday, 13 December 2009

Hearth, Fireplace, TV and Facebook

Fireplace photo
Once upon a time, families would gather close to a house's hearth to cook, eat, warm themselves, talk and socialise. Years passed and the custom still persisted. The hearth managed to cover so many human needs at the same time that was a hub of the household. Ancient Greeks even had Hestia (Εστία) - a goddess - for that.

Much, much later in history, when houses became bigger and the household functions could be separated, it was the fireplace (or the gas heater) that became the centre of a house's social life (at least in winter).

And then, came the TV. It didn't (and it doesn't) cover the heating part, which is why TV sets and fireplaces often shared the same room, but it did (and it does) cover the story-telling/pseudo-social part. The TV sets became really quickly the household animators. Numerous voices have critised the effect of television on human society, although - to be fair - the television is also associated with a number of exciting possibilities, making it one of the most disruptive technologies, equivalent to the written languages, the typography or the radio.

In our digital age the traditional TV faces a number of competitors: The internet gives the potential for interaction, communication as well as information and entertainment. More and more parts of the world gain access to the digital world. More and more people acquire a digital presence. An e-mail address at first, a blog screen name at a second stage, a youtube alias maybe, an avatar on an online game, or even a piece of property in a digital world.

The social life, as most of us know it, had a clear impact on the digital world, from its early days. As "expected" (but that is said retrospectively) when people got the tools to reproduce their social links in the online world, those tools became massively successful (see irc, myspace, orkut, facebook, tweeter, picassa and flickr and - of course - the various blog- and forum- hosting sites - to name just a few).

Now, it has started working the other way round. Our digital presence is beginning to become the point of reference. It is our online profiles that are up-to-date and it is those profiles that maintain the link with the people of our social circle. Do you want to get to know somebody? Meet him/ her online! Link your digital existences!

Don't get me wrong. There is no dismissive criticism behind my words (questions and surprise, maybe). After all, just a few years ago, a person's social toolbox would include the telephone (still on the list), letters, postcards and even the local press. When "free time" is currently under redefinition, employing IT for a similar purpose seems the natural thing to do...


(Photo: "Hearth & Hound", CC by Woody)

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