Gedankenexperiment: Here is the Internet

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A digital native is a person who has grown up with digital technology such as computers, the Internet, mobile phones and MP3. A digital immigrant is an individual who grew up without digital technology and adopted it later. A digital native might refer to their new “camera;” a digital immigrant might refer to their new “digital camera.”

Description of “digital natives,” coinage generally credited to Mark Prensky

The idea of building competitors to Twitter on the same platform, or redistributing Twitter to multiple players reminds me of the idea that New York City should be rebuilt in Ohio because it would be cheaper. Or perhaps we could distribute a little of New York City in every state of the Union. New York City is what it is because of the people who live and visit there. Building another New York City in Las Vegas doesn’t result in the phenomenon that is New York City.

Echovar on decentralizing Twitter

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter—the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. […] Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.*

E.B. White, Here is New York (1948)

It took a week or so for these three things to snap together in my head, but when they did I was surprised how beautifully and accurately E.B. White described the population of the Internet.

I consider myself, and many of the people that I know, settlers: we have chosen to live a part of our lives online, and building online is important to us. Commuters have long since arrived—people who come online for work, or to do a little shopping, or in search of entertainment, but for whom the Internet is simply an interesting, useful, nice place to visit.

I’m not certain that there are yet many, if any, true natives, but I’m looking forward to seeing the (to me) strange changes engendered by people who can take the physical and metaphorical connectedness of the Internet for granted as a part of their daily lives.

* Personal note: my parents (both originally from the Midwest) moved to New York in 1968, and I was born in 1971. When I first read this passage, years ago now, I finally started to understand how my parents’ New York was different from my own—and that New York was important to them in a way that I think I can never entirely understand.

Friday’s Brain Dead Emails

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The McKinsey Quarterly Goes Social
The McKinsey Quarterly dropped me an email yesterday to let me know about the exciting new features that they’ve added: RSS feeds and social bookmarking! A very social and up-to-date organization, apparently. Interesting, then that they still follow the distinctly anti-social practice of sending me email from a dead address, with the friendly note “PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO THIS E-MAIL.” Way to start conversations, kids.

Update (4 hours post-publishing): To expand a little bit on the above, a snippet from an email that I sent to a correspondent who prefers not to be named. I’ll just say that I’m pleased and impressed when people respond very reasonably to criticism that might perhaps be called “snarky.”

What struck me about the email, though, is that in a message that’s about social communication tools being introduced, the email tells people how they shouldn’t communicate (all caps “PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL”) rather than telling them what they should do if they want to communicate with you. Why not shift the focus to providing guidance to subscribers, rather than stopping one particular behavior?

Amazon Recommends Pretending to Target Emails
In other news, the Amazon recommendation email situation that I’ve blogged about before continues its slide into absurdity. For a quick recap:

  • Back in the winter of 2005 Amazon would email me about stuff like an opportunity to get an 18% discount when pre-ordering an M83 album because I’d bought “Svefn-G-Englar” by Sigur Rós. Good.
  • In the spring of 2007 Kim Cameron wrote about the same sort of positive experience with Amazon recommendation emails. Excellent.
  • Come the winter of 2008, things get ugly. Because I have “shopped for electronics” (not purchased, mind you, but shopped for) Amazon emails me to recommend that I buy an Archos DVR. Lame. I have to assume there’s a new hire in the marketing department.

And now it’s the spring of 2008 and that new marketing hire appears to have settled in for the long haul. What’s the latest recommendation email from Amazon?

As someone who purchased video games or music from genres included in the game, you might be interested in our Grand Theft Auto IV music downloads store.

Seriously, Amazon? I’ve purchased “video games or music from genres included in the game?” Wouldn’t it be simpler to just skip a couple of steps and move directly into emailing me whatever your marketing department wants to send, whenever they want to send it? Once useful email program, fast becoming a sad joke.