Anybody Out There? Reinventing Social Connection During a Pandemic

Tim Burners-Lee invented the world wide web with the central premise that it would be a place where all of the knowledge gathered over human history and all over the world would be collected in one central hub with external “links” to other sources. Wikipedia is one of the most visited websites on the internet, which tends to be about three clicks away from any thought trajectory or citizen “researcher” internet-supported thought experiment. In a sense, Wikipedia fulfills Burner-Lee’s vision of what the internet could be. But it’s not enough.

I grew up with the internet meeting me as a pivotal right of passage in my life. Just as I was learning to socialize and explore various ways of being human in the world, the internet gave me a tool to perform this exploration anonymously. Of particular interest to me was chat rooms.

Chat rooms are generally remembered as a place for perverts and creeps. But to me, chat rooms represented a world-wide real-time conversation in a virtual room full of complete strangers. What do we say to one another? I recall a story told in My Dinner with Andre about an international improvisational theater group convening around a fire but not sharing a common language, just waiting for someone to do something. Chat rooms felt a bit like that. A child playing with a transistor radio waiting to catch the signal of another person also comes to mind. The first question is often the same: Where are you?

“Wow, I’m talking to someone in Hong Kong right now!”

The problem with chat rooms is that there often no cohesion to the conversation. Forums provided much more focused discussions. Reddit and Twitter allowed these conversations to unfold closer to real-time.

Alas, what I would love to see is a place where users can type in a thought that is on their mind in a moment and then see a web with some natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning algorithms rendering data about the nearest match, both in time and context-relevance. Then, the user could open a real-time, live dialogue with this other person who had a similar thought just a few minutes ago.

I’ve had this idea since I was seventeen, and I still think it’s a great one.

Alas, that’s not it. I want to try to invent ways that users can share aspects of their phenomenological realities and embodied, subjective perceptions with one another using Augmented and Mixed Reality. In my conception, Augmented content will represent the lived experience of another person.

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