Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Trying to Confront the Nature of Experience

Every now and then I read something on confused of calcutta that really disconcerts me. Often this just leaves me depressed for the rest of the day (if not longer). Every now and then, however, I find myself provoked into trying to tease out just what was bugging me; and, if I am lucky, I figure out a way to start making lemonade out of the lemons. This seems to have been the case with JP Rangaswamy's recent observation about technology adoption:

Everything changes. Now one of the changes that has intrigued me this past decade is in the nature of the technology adoption curve. Simply put, for most of my life, I was used to a particular adoption curve. In order to experiment with emerging technologies, you had to be 28-40, a high-achieving professional, working for a company in aerospace, defence, high-end manufacturing or investment banking. Before 28 you didn’t have the seniority, after 40 you were past experimenting and having fun, you spent all your time in the paranoid timewasting that characterises so much of large-organisation behaviour.

All that changed with Generation M. The pyramid sort of inverted overnight, as the mobile multitasking multimedia generation caught hold of life in their inimitable way. Now it’s the 14-25 year old who first gets to play.

Now I have to confess that I am about as skeptical about Generation M as I was about a year ago when I wrote my "Generation M Goes to Work?" post on my last blog. This time, however, JP seems to have provoked me into thinking more about age itself. One of my conclusions is that, whatever the age numbers may be for technology adoption, I still subscribe to Mark Twain's aphorism about how our appreciation of age (his father in his case) advances along with the years we have lived. However, while Twain made his remark with a certain sense of comfortable satisfaction with the aging process, I see more of a "tragic sense of being."

Consider the hypothesis that, in Heidegerrian language, we only really begin to appreciate our experiences of being-in-the-world once we have progressed beyond the age of 40. I would argue that this is the case because of all that biological evidence that addresses how past experiences bias present perceptions; and, in the way we tend to live today, 40 is about the age by which we have accumulated an experience base with a fair amount of both breadth and depth. As the above quotation points out, however, it is also the age at which we leave the "fun of the trenches" and succumb to the more deadening aspects of the workplace.

At this point it is really tempting to invoke the concept of "wisdom;" but I need to avoid that temptation because of the ways in which the noun-games that have been brought on by knowledge management frenzy have robbed most of our common-sense vocabulary of all of its meaning. Let me, instead, continue with the vocabulary I was using in the last paragraph and suggest that, for all the claptrap that grew up along with knowledge management faddism, we still do not really comprehend the nature of that experience base at the level of either the individual or any of the communities in which that individual is embedded; and, since we understand it so poorly, we are equally inadequate in our efforts to leverage it, to engage the past as a valuable resource when confronting the issues of the present.

These paragraphs were initially provoked because the paragraphs quoted above then led to some musing about examining Facebook usage data.

I’m going to try and cut and paste the list of current applications in Facebook Platforms:

I think there’s a big lesson for us all in the data presented above. Just For Fun leads, then comes Utility some way behind, then comes Gaming. Music, Photo, Video and Messaging bunch up a little later, and Business is around half the size of any one of those.

I’m sure someone can write an app that plots the movement of numbers in each of these classifications over time, or make it possible for someone else to do it. Any views, Dave? Enjoying your travels?

Now this is the supply side. What would be even more interesting is the demand side and how that behaves across these classifications? How many people are using applications in each classification? I accept there is risk of misclassification or fuzzy overlaps, but I am not looking for exact sciences here, I think the trend information is good enough.

I find this an interesting intellectual exercise; but, amateur anthropologist that I am, I believe very strongly that supply-and-demand data need to be gathered and examined at both the microlevel and the macrolevel (which the above quotation has used as a point of departure). Furthermore, as the quotation suggests, both of these levels need to be analyzed diachronically, that is, attending to how they unfold in time, rather than how any “instance-snapshot” looks. This could lead us in a profoundly new direction, because while databases and "knowledge bases" may have failed us in our attempt to achieve a better understanding of personal experiences, the right mix of macroanalysis and microanalysis of behavior in a rich social environment like Facebook may yield more viable results, both in enhancing our understanding and enabling those experiences to be leveraged in present behavior. Perhaps I am being too optimistic about how much of the human condition we can ultimately grasp, but I think that the first steps in blazing this particular trail deserve serious attention!

No comments: