On my way back from India, cooped up in a big tube flying at super speeds over Eurasian skies, I really missed having something to read. As Matt lost himself in a Seth Godin piece on his Kindle, I was reduced to watching old episodes of “Numbers” on my laptop, which I had left pretty much untouched throughout most of the trip. I wished desperately that I had brought one of those e-readers with me. Ironically enough, Amazon released the new and improved version of the Kindle today, one day after I returned. The Kindle, of course, like other popular gadgets such as the iPod and iPhone, is part of a larger trend brought on by the digitization of, well, everything.
Taking Our Home To Go
These days, we want to carry the contents of our homes with us wherever we go. Photos, once housed in beautiful frames and curated in albums, are now stuffed into our iPhones, and our relationships are nurtured on social networks via electronic address books from anywhere on the planet. I know Coltrane, Miles, Dizzy, Ella and Thievery all come for a walk with me whenever I pull the door behind me. Thanks to the rise of place-shifting and devices such as Sling Media’s SlingBox, even my television travels with me. And when that’s not possible, I just buy and download shows from either Amazon or Apple. I even took my favorite television show, “Criminal Minds,” for a ride across the country (or rather, the planet) last week.
Now I want to carry all my books with me, too.
Books, music, videos…they all represent the proverbial hearth. My library, easy chair and music system have long constituted what I considered home. But over the past few years, that has started to change — whether it’s just me or the new human condition, I’m not sure. I think it’s a bit of both. Thanks to the availability of cheap wireless connections, we are getting rid of another fixture in our homes: the landline phone. Every quarter, there are roughly 3 million fewer landline phones. A few changes of clothes and a computer, and suddenly home is not where the heart is, but where there’s a connection.
The Big Societal Shift
This is part of a societal change I wrote about in a column for Business 2.0 about the concept of life streams, driven primarily by the rise of ever-pervasive Internet connectivity. My argument was that since humans have an overwhelming need to interact with one another, in this new always-on, increasingly connected society, we would want to mimic our offline interactions online. Instead of using connectivity to just communicate in real time, the world would transition to interacting in real time. It would be a way to share your life with those close to you, no matter how far away. Leisa Reichelt, a smart digital ethnographer, calls it ambient intimacy.
The companies that seem to have grasped this notion most effectively are Amazon, Apple and Google. Some startups have glommed onto this shift as well — for example Qik, Kyte and others, though I hardly think they are the answer. Rather the answer lies with Facebook and to some extent, FriendFeed, both of which are promoting the concept of news feeds of our lives. About three years ago, over a cup of coffee, Narendra Rocherolle, co-founder of Webshots and more recently 30 Boxes, showed me a feature known as the news feed. It was a way to collate information from one’s social network (calendar), and marry it to Flickr photos and other such information. It was essentially Facebook’s News Feed. It was so powerful and so obvious to me, especially considering that I was already dealing with information overload.
A Once In a Century Change
Fast-forward three years, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is proclaiming that his service represents a once-in-100-years kind of media shift. Despite the derision such a comment was met with by most people, I think he is quite right (though Facebook’s first implementation of Beacon was as wrong as Botox injections are for a 75-year-old). By turning its news feed into a newspaper for our social life — one that is updated constantly — it makes us feel like we’re in touch with our friends, family and other people we consider important in our lives.
With more than 175 million people signed up across the planet, Facebook in many ways has started to resemble our real-life social networks. On my trip to India, sitting in a Barista coffee shop with Wi-Fi, the Facebook app on my iPod Touch allowed me to keep up with everyone on my network. My BlackBerry Facebook App allowed me to post status updates and photos to the service as I traipsed around Delhi. Just like my iPod lets me carry my music library with me, Facebook brings with me my entire social life. All I need is a connection.
At 35,000 feet in the sky, there is no connection (just yet). But as long as you have a Kindle, who cares?