A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of enjoying afternoon tea time at Infusion Tea (it’s tasty, whether it sounds snooty or not :D), followed by a screening of ‘Citizenfour’, Laura Poitras’ documentary on her interactions with Edward Snowden and the NSA file leak that he has become famous for.

Last weekend I watched ‘The Imitation Game’, a stylized biopic of the life of Alan Turing, considered to be the father of modern computing.

Yesterday, marking the two year anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s death, I watched ‘The Internet’s Own Boy’, a documentary about his life and work. The documentary is creative commons licensed, so in addition to supporting the filmmakers by buying or renting it, you can also freely and legally torrent it or watch it on Youtube and other sources.

There are always movies, large and small, that chronicle the lives and exploits of famous people, and many computer industry professionals are becoming famous in their own right. The dot-com bubble may have cast a long shadow over the industry of web entrepreneurs, but the successes of wunderkinds in shaping our digital lives (and filling their physical bank accounts) over the past decade has been a strong factor in making geek and nerd positive, rather than negative terms.

I have a lot that I could say about each of these three men profiled in these movies. I’ve spoken in the past about my love of ‘The Social Network’ and Mark Zuckerberg and ‘The Transcendent Man’ as a biography of Ray Kurzweil, among others. I could talk about how I can identify with Alan Turing, both in inability to connect oftentimes, as well as the outsider status of being homosexual. I could talk about how both Edward Snowden and Aaron Swartz made key decisions informed on their digital prowess, something that I try to do even if nowhere near as monumental as their decisions.

What I think I can say is that films like these – stylized or straightforward, spectacles or small-takes – give us insight into the inner workings of people who are potentially just like us, harnessing the power of computers to affect many others. Increasingly, we’re living in communities that transcend physical borders, but that are still constricted by cultural ones. Watch them, digest whatever lessons that you choose from them, and use that information to develop your own ideas and companies. Just let me know when a film is made of your life, so I can buy my ticket. 🙂

Photo of Aaron Swartz by gillyyouner is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you’ve not seen the movie ‘Her’ yet, you may just know it as that movie where the guy falls in love with his computer. That’s a pretty simplistic overview of the plot, which revolves more around a vision of the near future as it’s likely coming, and what it means to be human. Joaquin Phoenix portrays Theodore, a man separated from his wife, who forms a relationship with an artificial OS, Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

The view of the future in this movie is quiet, almost comforting. Long gone are the large displays and acrobatic gestures of ‘Minority Report’, replaced instead with design that melds into the background, as I could easily imagine technology moving. The main point of control for devices isn’t touchscreens, but is instead vocal commands, removing a layer of mediation, making it easier for him to comfortably interact with Samantha. Over time, they learn more about one another, and Samantha moves from being a digital assistant to a digital paramour.

We may consider it odd or disconcerting now that someone could fall in love with a voice alone, knowing that it is not attached to a “real” person, but the point is more that reality is what you make of it, and that meaningful relationships can be different for different people. It has to be noted that Theodore is not alone in this world; it’s mentioned that other people, such as one of his close friends also going through a breakup, have begun relationships with their OS. His friends generally take it in stride, and several are even encouraging of the relationship. This frees us from the focus of “this guy is weird”, making the film more of a straightforward – albeit quirky – love story.

As I’d previously mentioned, the HyperPersonal Model of interaction allows for feedback loops through digitally mediated interaction which allows the highs and lows of Theodore and Samantha’s relationship to be clearly on display, allowing them to know each other more intimately than most people ever will.

‘Her’ is an overall excellent film, with writing, direction and performances that are all first-rate. The score to the film is soothing in this digital age, with mixtures of transformers humming and the like to keep the mood. I highly recommend it, and look forward to most of the advancements and changes that are suggested in the film to come to real life in the near future.

I met both my current boyfriend and my ex through online dating. This used to be fairly taboo to admit to, but it seems that the standards have shifted to apps like Tinder being cultural phenomena unto themselves. It seems that more people have tried internet mediated dating than not, making it a more “acceptable” method to meeting a mate, even if a lingering stigma can still be felt. Even though I can fall back upon the basis of pre-existing mutual friends and interests, a true connection was still forged first via the internet.

Statistic Brain, culling data from Reuters, Herald News, PC World and Washington Post has noted that online courtships before marriage are much shorter than offline, an average of 18 and a half months versus the more substantial 42 month average of those less technologically inclined. Impression Management is often stated to be an important task for online daters, similar to how self-censoring and selection drives the Hyperpersonal Model of digital communication. I would hypothesize that the shorter courtship is indicative of this sense of deeper understanding that many people describe the people that they connect with via online dating.

In one way that online dating does differ from this more hyperpersonal communication is through the casualty with which many users can approach it. Often described as a fear of missing out, many users admitted to pursuing relationships with multiple people at once online, testing the boundaries of what they can commit to while keeping options open. Choice of who to converse with is also artificially limited, by filters set by users on who they want to interact with (white straight women between 22-30, for instance), or by the apps themselves like Tinder that attempt to determine the most desirable profiles to display for each user. It seems that while relationships begun online tend to move faster and last longer/happier than those started solely offline, a self-selection bias can in this case be a benefit, rather than a detriment.

Utilizing digitally mediated interaction has a few distinct advantages over “real world”, face to face communication. One of the bigger advantages, the subject of the hyperpersonal model, is the ability to manage one’s presentation to another. The ability exists to control representation of oneself and dictate the terms on which communication occurs. Basically, you can utilize the power of logging, searching, asynchronous communication and of course facets of anonymity to make your presentation more optimized, but more meaningful and useful as well.

While the lack of body language and emotional, non-verbal cues is limited in computer mediated communication, many pros exist such as the availability of conversations to be reviewed at a later time, the ability to selectively show and hide certain attributes and the time delay present in most CMC which allow refining of messages. This allows individuals to refine their messages and self-censor. Idealization is much higher, as the negative cues in communication can be more readily ignored, while positive cues can be magnified and enhanced by both the sender and receiver.

In addition to the relaxed modes of communication and expectations on responses, feedback is much greater in successful CMC, as available cues for sender and receiver are limited. Since we’re constantly basing our behavior and expectations on the feedback that we get from those who we are communicating with, the lack of those cues makes that behavior feedback loop much stronger and more positive. This can explain a greater satisfaction with digital interaction than face to face interaction, or a much faster meltdown if communication goes poorly.

All three of the above labels I would apply to myself in some fashion or another. One of the great things that the internet has brought has been the ability to gather disparate communities together under larger banners, or bring people together who might have otherwise never been able to find each other, assuming that they were alone. Digital Communication has brought about a way for people to publicly associate and locate one another, while privately conversing with them about whatever niche interests they share.

The power of digital connection cannot be overstated. Already, staid industries are being overturned with social networking and the power of the group. Niche projects that would otherwise never exist outside of the minds of their creators are now being brought forth and shared with the world thanks to the power of crowdfunding. Individuals who in the past would have been alone and isolated in the world are forming bonds that are closer and more meaningful than with many of the people physically near them.

I find that I’m more connected, not less, when I use the internet. I can interact with people who share my interests but not necessarily my social circles or physical location. I am more free to share my thoughts in an accepting environment, and shape my interactions around the people that matter most to me. The dangers of echo chambering and filter bubbles exist, but if I’m cognizant of it I can at least save my “real world” interactions for a more open, public existence.