A lot of us want to be superman. Watching movies about and dreaming of having super powers sometimes leads us to thoughts of what we could and would do if we were him. One step down to earth, who has never dreamed of being the charming, intelligent and and strong James Bond (the latter applies especially to the new Bond in the movies)? The same applies for Professor Jones or Sherlock Holmes.
Having written so much about practical implications of information and communication technologies I really missed weird thought which led to this theoretical construct. My former professors may forgive me for the weird way of thinking and applying theories which follows.
What does it take us in the era of information and communication technologies to be Professor Jones? Due the fact, that information and communication technologies are communications systems (as the name suggests) I would like to apply Yochai Benkler’s system of understanding communications system to my thoughts. However, I stumbled upon his system while currently reading Lawrence Lessig’s great ‘The Future of Ideas. The Fate of Commons in a Connected World’. He used this system to make some points about the usability of commons. Benkler essentially divides his system into three layers which we have to look at if we want to understand communications systems. These layers are physical, code and content.
In my example the physical layer subsumes or physical aspects people have. The includes look, physics as well as charisma. The latter depends not only on your physics but even the way you talk and smile are physical appearances.
The code layer involves things such as problem-solving abilities, leadership and decision-making. In the same way as I would subsume that the physical layer is mainly concerned with physics, this layer essentially deals with logical abilities.
The content layer is all about knowledge and information. A content of a person is everything he knows regardless if he can apply it in a proper way or not.
You might ask now, for a good reason, what this all have today with becoming superman. If you are strong, good-looking, intelligent and charming you are superman (superpowers still have to be prepared by evolution). The point I want to make is, how much of these attitudes you can fake in the modern environment. Therefore, I would like to take two modern communications settings as underlying structure for this argument. The first one is a communication between two or more people solely via ICTs, primarily mobile phones and the Internet. The second setting however is a real-life meeting. What I do exclude at this point, and I might refer to it in later articles is a hybrid communication setting, for example phone calls or video calls.
First things first. Due to the fact that there is no voice or image involved (either than probably a faked picture of yourself) the physical layer is completely irrelevant. It does not matter if you are strong or not, good-looking or not or even charming. Stop. Why does not the latter at least has some importance? You cannot be really charming while chatting, writing emails and so on. The perception of ICT-based communication is totally different to the way you percept face-to-face communication and social interaction. However, I am not a communications sociologist but I might say, based on my sixteen years of experience, that a lot of things you write are not percepted by the other party as intended. It helps a lot if you got to know your communications partner before (but this is obviously excluded in this example). Therefore, this layer might be rendered useless.
The code layer. This one is tough. There are a lot of things you can look-up on different search engines. You can simultaneously chat with other people in order to solve a problem or even ask them what they would do in this situation (in order to include abilities such as leadership). Thanks to copy and paste, time is not much of an issue. Due to the complexity of this layer, I would give you (including your own abilities) at least 50% of success rate to master a problem and appear intelligent in front of your communications partner.
The content layer. Faker-alert. You can use the search engines, knowledge-management platforms and chitchat for almost everything. There are only some things you cannot find in time to respond to your communications partner. Most of them are more complex issues which I would regard to be more in the code than in the content layer. Success rate at least 80%.
Consequently, if your code-layer-impled abilities are average you are good to go (and fake a communication, letting you appear pretty smart – which is all that matters as we analyzed).
What about the second setting? The physical layer will kill you I predict. There are things you can find out via using search engines (how to dress, what is cool and hip) but behavior as well as natural charisma is hard if not impossible to fake. However, other physical attitudes such as strength might be solved in the future (e.g. using artificial legs). Anyway, if you cannot adapt to situations and people – say it: you are socially awkward – you might not survive. I give you a solid 10%.
Will the content layer safe you? Hardly. Referring to the above mentioned, in face-to-face situations you neither have the time nor opportunities to leave your communications partner on a regular basis to check with friends via mobile phone. It might work one or two times but in general you do not have a big chance there. Another solid 10%. Like the physical layer, the more time goes by, the less likely you will be able to fake it.
It is all about the content layer. You can retrieve information from you friends (two particularly good ones in this situation are bing and wiki) or use fancy apps to impress. Even if you have no clue that this should actually be music, you can tell the band, songwriter and all the little details just by recording some seconds. In societies in which writing txt msgs during social interaction is not a no-go you are totally fine. Otherwise, you have to collect things you should know and then use an extended bathroom stay to look them up. Here again, time is a major issue. I say 70% success-rate in faking.
What does all this tell us? First of all: Do NOT marry someone you just know on the Internet. Secondly, if you are trying to set up a movement against whatsoever via Internet, you a good to go, even if you are awkwardandstupidashell (just exaggerating). Lastly, when you decide to gather some friends to find the Holy Grail, you should better have valuable skills on your own and meet your team in reality first.
Let me add – and if you are depending on the Internet like me, please do not read further – I heard that there might be places in the world where you neither have Internet access nor network connection for your mobile phone. But personally, I do not believe this gossip!