Are we becoming Firefox icons?

A few weeks ago in a very bizarre dream, I was a beautifully customised icon on my Firefox browser, adorned in bright colors with HC on the bottom right.

HC didn’t stand for HealthCrunch, nor was it an alternative to creative commons. What it stood for was Human Connector. The difference between this multi-colored creative HC icon and all the others was that it could jump from one Firefox browser to another. It could also pop in and out of people’s IE and Safari worlds, hang out, and observe their behavior.

HC didn’t have a face, but had a magical wand that allowed me to engage with whomever I wanted, a power granted by the HG – Human Gadget – who mostly hung out in the open source galaxy that only a few of us insiders knew about.

Dream versus Reality

In this dream I watched a group of people in an Internet Café somewhere in Silicon Valley. They were referring to each other by their Twitter names, and many were shouting random things into their iPhones, such as “I just got tagged in a photo” and “I just joined the ‘I’m a social media addict group’”. The waiter seemed a tad confused by the names people used, particularly @madjellyman and @toadwalker.

Oh, the things I saw as HC. I watched my human self too, not unlike the way Sully watched his blue-bodied Na’vi body in Avatar. The difference was that my icon was the human and the human me had become the alien.

A couple of weeks later, I discovered a YouTube video that showed a Twitter and Facebook café with people doing the same things as I’d dreamed of. It was so similar it was surreal.

The always-on world is catching up to us in ways we’re not even aware of, simply because the rate of change is too fast. Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near talks about the intense pace we’re moving at, as does research on the psychological and sociological impact of technological stimuli on the human brain.

Our digital world moves so rapidly that the reality and the dream can become one before you’ve realised it’s happening.

Are we really ready to become Firefox icons? Will we have a choice?

We’ve become so addicted to the adrenalin we get from new gadgets or social media tools that it’s all too easy to put the human connection aside – even if it’s only an hour less people-time than it was last week and the week before. It’s a gradual thing when machines take over.

There’s no doubt about it – I love discovering new tools that help me navigate the web in different ways, social media apps that give me a richer experience on the web and iPhone downloads that fascinate me during a boring panel discussion.

When Foursquare came out, I was hooked within a week. Why? Because it’s cool. Not only is there a game component like many of the geo-loco services on mobile devices, but there’s a Twitter-like “wow” when you discover that a friend just checked into one of your favourite places.

The Upside

Services such as Skype, Twitter, WordPress, Foursquare and Facebook are perfect for connectors like me who not only engage with people in their professional capacity, but in their personal lives as well.

These tools allow me to connect with people from countries all over the world. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t talk to Europe, Australia, South Africa, Israel or other American states.

Additionally, voices that were unheard 20 years ago now have countless platforms to tell their stories, in video, audio, on a blog, or in 140 characters or less.

The Downside

While there’s no question that I love trees and lakes more than my Blackberry and iPod, the connection that I have to my devices isn’t a small one. These devices go with me everywhere, the technology “hooked factor” sets in and the result isn’t always a healthy one.

You are not a Gadget argues that Web 2.0 designs value the information content of the web over individuals. Says author Jaron Lanier: “It suggests that only the aggregator (like Google, for instance) gets rich, while the actual producers of content get poor. Web 2.0 is a formula to kill the middle class and undo centuries of social progress.” He also believes that the internet has become anti-intellectual because web 2.0 collectivism has killed the individual voice.

It’s another perspective, not one that everyone shares. Yet I don’t know anyone who doesn’t agree that managing an ever-growing world of online content and conversations sucks up far too much of our time – and many are opting out because they simply can’t keep up.

While the grass is growing around me and the waves are crashing against a shore somewhere not far from my house, their voices are getting dimmer as the calls from my countless inboxes and browsers are getting louder.

It’s no great surprise that as technology continues to beckon us with its magic and promises, our time connected to it will increase.

But as our inboxes, IM and Twitter clients, Facebook pages and text messages continue to grow, isn’t it long overdue that we demand products that give us more time with friends, more time on mountaintops, and more time playing with our children?

We need tools that really merge and converge, not tools that only promise this. We want solutions that simplify, not complicate, and smart aggregators and personalised curators.

We need to demand solutions that humanise our daily lives and serve our personal needs. Before it catches up with us and turns us into Firefox icons.



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