I came to a disturbing realization the other day – I’ve come to feel that whatever isn’t online isn’t real. This came about thanks to the Wii’s insanely stupid online policy. Everything about playing online with the Wii is an exercise in frustrating the user. Rather than always be connected to the net when the console is on (like modern computers, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3), the Wii attempts to connect to the game servers at the time you wish to play the game. This leads to the very frustrated experience of wanting to play online, loading up into the game you want to play and then realizing that the system is having problems connecting to the Internet. So you have to back out to the Wii menu and trouble-shoot the problem. This wouldn’t be so vexing if it didn’t take the Wii ages to load games, including the “don’t throw your effing Wiimote around” warning every time! Even in games where it doesn’t make sense! (Like Rock Band)
Part of this stupid online scheme is the lack of an API. So, while I can design programs to see when Dan is playing a game on Xbox and then do something based on that information, no such functionality exists for the Wii. And now I come back to tying this into my opening sentence. There is a video game website called raptr that keeps track of what games its users play. Then it creates charts and graphs showing the most played games for the last week, month, and all time. Other charts show how many games the users have on each system. It’s like your own Billboard charts, but for video games. (We’ll be back to Billboard later) Dan got me to sign up for this site a while back. And it has logged the time I’ve spent in Spore, Warcraft III, Peggle, Portal, and tons of other computer games. It also keeps track of achievements earned in each game. Sure, achievements are somewhat pointless accolades, but they can still be worth bragging points among gaming geeks. So I was frustrated to discover that my Rockband: The Beatles play time and achievements would not be logged in raptr. Odd. After all, who cares if and how long I’m spending playing this game? And why do I care if others know? This extended to me not playing the expansion to Warcraft III because raptr wasn’t logging my time. But this is not the end of this tale of strange psychology.
A few years before that, I signed up for last.fm. I think this was also introduced to me by Dan. last.fm is literally a Billboard chart in that it is a log of all the songs you’ve ever listened to. So you can see which songs, albums, and artists were the most listened to by any of the individual members or all of them aggregated together. For a while Dan and I had a competition going to see who had listened to more music. Some time after I started working, I gave up the competition because Dan was in his dorm listening to music while I was at work. It got to the point where I didn’t want to listen to music in any music program that didn’t report back to last.fm. I even deplored my wife playing music on her computer (even if it was something I liked) because it wasn’t being reported to last.fm. Again, who cares which bands I’m listening to? There have been SOME benefits of last.fm. Someone noticed music I was listening to and recommended another good band. And it lets me know when those bands are touring in my town. But I’ve barely taken advantage of those features.
And then there’s twitter/Facebook. Those are a bit more rational, depending upon the user. Some people, like me, just write mini blog posts. I might say that a movie I just saw was great or I might complain about service with some company. But some people out there write when they’re at the market and what they’re eating and when they’re going to the bathroom. Plus if a relationship isn’t acknowledged on Facebook, it’s treated as a sham. For if people were together, surely they’d mark it on Facebook.
Finally, there’s a phenomenon I’ve never participated in because I’m not a 14 year old girl – sexting, the texting of nude or semi-nude self-portraits to boyfriends and other friends. There are a host of issues involved here from the fact that minors are taking their own child porn and distributing it themselves to the fact that they can surface now or later and embarrass the girl. Lots of these kids don’t “understand” the Internet yet. They get mad when people violate their “privacy” by reading their blogs or looking at their photos (which they posted online!). So they don’t realize that anything that gets on the net cannot be erased. (Just ask the people who wanted The Grey Album stricken from the record)
But how did we get here? How did we end up with this urge to share with strangers? I wish, here, I had more sociology (and/or anthropology?) training because I wonder if humans always had this urge and simply did not possess the technology to do so. The real test will be how long this lasts. If we’re just reacting to a new ability we have with the now ubiquitous Internet (in the first world countries), then the urge to share should fade as the novelty does. But if humans have a profound need to share their creations, the trend should continue.
I’d also be interested in knowing how far this phenomenon has spread around the world. I know in the US, my generation grew up being told that everything they produced was wonderful. In our efforts to ensure we don’t frustrate the next Einstein, have we created a nation of people who believe that everything they do is wonderful and worthy of sharing with the world? It would even be interesting to find out if there was an East/West division in how open people are with these windows into their lives.