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May 4, 2004
The insistent messiness of humans
In response to danah
's too insightful-to-be-mere-musings about whether artificial social networks (ASNs) model autism, Cory writes:
There is defintely a strong echo of autism life-skills training in the YASNSes. An autistic learns that a smile means happiness, a frown anger, and so on - and wishes that people would just explicitly spell out their feelings, rather than using these mushy, unspecific cues. To me, this is strongly reminiscent of the YASNSs demand that we make explicit all our friendships (to the point of writing testimonials about our friends!) - "Your nuanced continuum of friendship is hard to understand and needs to be quantified. Please rate all your friends sexiness from one to three."
Of course I love Cory's critique of the pathological explicitism of ASNs. And I've certainly been on that bandwagon before. But it also makes me realize the extent to which we humans inhabit the explicit gestures we've been taught, re-ambiguating them.
For example, Jerry Michalski likes to hand out red, green and yellow cards at small-audience events so that we can flag our agreement, disagreement or indifference to what's being said. That's potentially reductive, but we end up waving them with non-reductive, analog, continuous degrees of enthusiasm (to Jerry's delight). Clapping could be a rather binary form of social interaction, but we invest it with all sorts of oomph. "Raise your hand if you have a question," and some kids timidly crouch behind their hands while others are out of their seats with waves the size of semaphor signals. And, of course, Morse code operators could recognize one another by the silences between the clacks.
So, sure, the "Type in a percentage of friendship" box in ASNs is stupidly reductive. But, wrt ASNs it will be fascinating to watch how we insist on complicating the simple, ambiguating the precise, and smudging the edges of the discrete.
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