Humanizing Our Virtual Selves

Question: Are social networking sites here to stay?

Jonathan Zittrain: I think social networking is absolutely here to stay.  Now, whether or not the label will Facebook forever, depends in part, I think, on whether Facebook wants to try to be less proprietary, be more central to the operation of defining and stewarding identity online.

Question: Linking the virtual and the physical

Jonathan Zittrain: What’s going to be a person’s anchor point in this new virtual universe and how easily can there be applications that make use of that identity, about our features, that we can control, but how easily can somebody author something new and different for that?  And that’s why, to me, at the moment here in 2009, Facebook apps maybe aren’t the biggest thing ever, but that’s where I’d be keeping my eye, to see just how permanent something like Facebook will be.  And it’s also why I think something like Twitter has become as, I think for a lot of people, baffling popular as it has, because it is so commoditizable, it’s basically a standard for any one person or non-person, to utter statements to the world in short character bursts.  And that’s the kind of thing that can be built into any other number of applications.

So I would look next to see a whole range of applications written that more innately and automatically enhance or describe our identities online as we just go about our daily lives.  I mean, right now you see applications like Four Square, Meetro, and Looped, where people can say where they are.  You check in at a restaurant and then any of your friends nearby know that you’re at that restaurant and can meet you there.  Or you connected up with your social network and now you can find, among the 20 closest friends of your 20 closest friends, here is who else is nearby in this restaurant and you can greet each other and meet without fear of one of you being an axe murderer.

And we’ll see more of those services, I think, and more of these kind of mouse droppings of just as you act in the world, right, it’s just one more shift, so you don’t have to actually check in at the restaurant, but set it to auto check in, and so those with whom you have a certain degree of friendship in your profile, automatically know where you are at all times, as you go from one place to the next.  And as more and more products have RF ID’s attached to them, it can be effortless to inform the world that you’re having a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal right now because you were just handling the box.

Now, is that a good thing?  Who cares who’s eating Lucky Charms, but it always starts with the trivial and the goofy, and then it turns out to have many more powerful applications.  When you realize, for example, that one of the biggest barriers to successful healthcare is whether or not people are taking their medicine, because it often turns out that often they’re sick when they’re taking their medicine and not fully of right mind, you start to see how I see, a bowl of Lucky Charms, who cares?  But did they take their pills today?  Much easier question to answer in the 21st century than it was in the last.

Recorded on August 18, 2009

 

Jonathan Zittrain discusses the prospect of an "anchor point" in cyberspace.

Venetian council room floods after councilors reject climate proposals

In a metaphor too apt to be made up, the council has been forced to relocate until the flood waters recede.

(Photo: Andrea Zanoni/Facebook)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The City of Venice is currently enduring the worst flooding to strike it in 50 years.
  • The mayor has declared it to be a result of climate change.
  • During a debate over next years budget, and right after rejecting environmental proposals, the main chamber of the regional council flooded.
Keep reading Show less

Space hotel with artificial gravity will be in orbit by 2025

The Von Braun Space Station, based on the concepts of a controversial scientist, is moving ahead with construction plans.

Credit: on Braun Space Station.
Technology & Innovation
  • The Gateway Foundation is building a space hotel, based on the concepts of a Nazi and American rocket scientist Wernher von Braun.
  • The space station is expected to be operational by 2025.
  • The company plans to assemble it in orbit, using robots and drones.
Keep reading Show less

The world now has an Ebola vaccine, in historic EU approval

The vaccine is 97.5% effective in protecting against the Zaire species of Ebola, according to the World Health Organization.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Surprising Science
  • The European Medicines Agency granted special approval for an Ebola vaccine called Ervebo.
  • Ervebo has proven remarkably effective in clinical trials conducted in Africa.
  • An Ebola outbreak has killed more than 2,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo since August 2018.
Keep reading Show less