People as a platform – our lives in media

The activity of process

Let’s talk more about our lives in media and discuss if its ubiquity has transformed us, people, into a platform for the media. Instead of the reverse. First, I need to debunk a few old theories.

Media participation is not linear
Two years ago I believed we moved back and forth between leader and participation roles in media, citing Harry Hochheiser and Ben Schniederman. I argue the egalitarian nature of social platforms allows anyone to lead a discussion, whereas formerly in hard media, that ownership belonged to the journalists. But now we can see how protests and movements have emerged in the last two years that identities between two binary points is too linear for how we live in media. Participation was distributed, networked and certainly not following a straight path.

When the year two-thousands rolled over, we found a better way to talk about remixing and reusing content as something new. Bolter and Grusin, in 2000, articulate this thing as remediation. Essentially, when we refashioning some kind of media to make a new piece of media. Which is ever present in our lives as more people than ever before are DJing tracks from producers, making animated gif memes from cinema and old-film filters on sharp, new photograms.

But, let’s use some bits from Mark Deuze’s new book Media Life which motivates this idea of life in media. So Lev Manovich, Russian media artists and professor suggest:

…this is a life of constant communication and conversation, part of a reality that is supposedly hackable and remixable by everyone, that is therefore always dynamic, unpredictable and permanently under construction. It forces each and every one of us to reconstruct our lifestyles to adapt to a world where the results of our actions are almost impossible to foresee  given that we live in a world that is inextriably networked, confronting everyone with an almost limitless supply of fragile forms of reality and truth – simply by switching on a radio or television, by consulting a website or opening an email. [Deuze, 3]

And our lives now, so fluid and changing faster than they ever have before, with multiple communication streams which directly effect not only our thoughts and emotions but how we make decisions and take action, impact our extremely networked communities.

We can no longer look at our lives as falling in and out of media phases. And many of us go to ‘unplug’ or be ‘off the grid’ in search of more organic or normal experiences. But we are announcing and declaring we are choosing a path of something temporary and unnatural, desperately taking our lives out of media, where even still we are reading books, hearing music, seeing photography if not creating any and all of those things. Which is my point here.

Media participation is high: writing, posting, sharing, etc. Nearly everyone online is a creator of some kind. But the rising echelon, the early adopters and the younger participants, are those whose lives have always been in media. Streams of information going in and coming out and without a flinch, see themselves and consumers and producers as the same thing, a lifestyle that also needs no title and certainly not a bi-lateral delineation.

And to Marshall McLuhan, the message is so much more than just the medium now.

But, what, indeed, is the case is that the ubiquitous media in our lives, becomes the influence, if not the content of who we are and who we will become. Now more than ever, we are what we eat, but also what we do, how we think and what we say and what we make. It is too pedestrian to say this is a remix generation.

What’s happening now in our world, is not combining two or three pieces of existing work to make something new. What’s happening now is what art and expression has always done: create work, music, photos, texts. We are creating statements about what is happening now and what’s happening now, always, in all these moments is in media, even if it is not immediately present.

But what sets apart society now from what’s been called a ‘remix culture’ is that because our lives are in media, even when we’re off the grid and disengaged, is a life and relationship with media.

Once, we used social media, personal websites and self-published books as a platform to share and post our ‘original’ works. While, though, others asked if there was ever an original piece of work. But now, we can barely even ask that question. Our lives are in media, as is our statements and our works, which are our lives, which too, are in the ubiquity of both being media and being in media.

But is it possible for media to be so ubiquitous that in fact, instead of people using media as a platform that we, the people are platforms for media?

Design, HCId, Language

We’ve become lonely, it seems

Jim Campbell
It sometimes seems feels like we can have anything we want, especially as it comes to information, shopping and now even tasks. Google it, get it on Amazon prime, send it to Taskrabbit. And there are mountains of ways to touch base with people we love (and also the people we just kinda like). I’m writing this to introduce an open topic and conversation.

We’re spending more time heads down than ever before. Hands to keyboard, finger to swipe, eyes to screen. It’s a remarkable tradeoff because we get to feel like we can have whatever we want, whenever we want at the cost of becoming screen zombies.

The New York Times posted an article today about the new slew of apps that help us find and discover people we know and people we could meet. Have we become so lonely that we need computers to help us do something as primal as sharing presence with other people? Why these apps now? Are the apps easier to build, are people needier for people, has it become more difficult to find people we love being with?

Finding friends online
Facebook, Twitter, Email and Instagram have specifically helped me stay tethered to people I care or want to care about. Sure. But they just as well create friction and false senses of closeness that do not replace natural interactions among people. I’m not sure we’ll ever create a technology that an replicate the experience of being physically near a person. But I do believe travel and city design will make it easier, faster and cheaper to be near people.

Finding love online
Online dating has become the second most common way to start a relationship, second to meeting through friends. I’m debating whether or not dating has become more difficult and how that’s related to technology because it also is inclusive of cultural and gender norms.  I’m in the throws of reading Marriage, a History that so far suggests in the last half decade our communities have put more pressure on our partners and marriage than ever before in history.

What next?
I’m not sure we’re lonelier than before? Studies have shown that people do retreat to their computers and social communities when they’re most sad (and I think lonely). So whether or not we’re net lonelier, looking back, it will sure seem like we were and we’ll say, what changed, what was the variable? More screens, less skin and bones.

Design, HCId, Language

I’ll call you from Twilio

Today I join Twilio in San Francisco as their newest designer. Twilio makes powerful tools that empower people to build communication apps on voice and SMS. Joining Twilio’s outstanding team is humbling and massively exciting. I’m inspired to work with a group that helps people to realize great ideas, build a better society and of course, improve communication.

Improving how we share information has been a thread throughout my career. From my days in narrative as a news designer, to working on the chat app at RockMelt to disrupting the translation industry at myGengo to the core of my design thesis, I’ve been thinking about this space. I’ve nestled up with big questions to understand how humans share information and communicate. Plus, I just love developers. Twilio could not have been a more perfect next step.

I’ll be working closely with Andres Krogh, Rourke McNamara, Danielle Morrill and many more stellar Twilions blending my interaction design and marketing chops. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to teach. Please join me in celebrating this exciting new chapter on my path.

Where’s Nina?
This year took me through 12 cities in 4 continents. Between the time of someone asking “where are you?” and me being able to answer, I was somewhere new. So here’s how 2011 played out.

Combi StopI celebrated the commencement of the year Cape Town on a life-changing trip to Southern Africa with the perfect travel mate. I saw a dear childhood friend and did research to inform my graduate school thesis. In the flutter of a tweet, I earned my Master’s and started packing boxes to pick up nearly a decade of my life spent in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana.

En route to San Francisco, I worked in Tokyo with myGengo, like Twilio, in the 500 Startup powerhouse. I learned from their brilliant team and earned intense design empathy and mountains of personal growth. Call it Manifest Destiny if you will, but I started working my way West. I skipped through Detroit and Chicago and did projects for with SigFig, Milewise and Posterous while planting my feet in San Francisco.

Burning I spent a week under extreme conditions in the dessert that taught me important lessons about design and experience. It yanked everything human about me to the surface of my being and I truly went through a Rite of Passage.

I went to St. Louis to see old friends from my journalism world at the Society for News Design’s conference. I talked on a panel about careers as a 5 year reunion from SND’s first intern competition and got to thank so many mentors who raised me as a professional.

It’s taken me years of patience and an unreal amount of work to build the life I now have in San Francisco. I couldn’t have predicted most of what happened this year and I can’t say what the future holds. But 2011 is not over yet and I’m having the time of my life on this ride.

Nina Mehta is a designer and writer living in San Francisco, working at Twilio.

Photo courtesy Jeff Lawson.