The words bionic and cybernetic kind of lost their original meanings in the English language. I squarely blame The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, and The Bionic Boy and the rest of TV and movie cyborgs as well as William Gibson.
Cybernetics is the science of control and communication. That does not only include electronic communications and numeric control. All kinds of control and communication. Thus we are all technically cyborgs or cybernetic organisms. Cyber- was a hot bizz-prefix in the 50s and 60s, but today steadily deteriorated into something anachronistic. People say “cyberspace” to sound old-timey, like when Mr. Burns from The Simpsons says “alienist” instead of “shrink.” Meanwhile, the study of usability, which in demand because of its apparent usefulness, is basically a subset of cybernetics. Yet when something is described as cyber-something, everybody promptly imagines gleaming steal and humanoid robots or cyborgs.
The word “bionic” fares even worse because of The Six Million Dollar Man. Something bionic is not necessarily “better, stronger, faster”. It means that it’s modeled on something found in nature. Like the Coca-cola “contour bottle” that is based on the cacao pod.
Anyway, what I wanted to write about has something to do with both cybernetics and bionics. As a web professional, I have witnessed and participated in the rise of online social networking. Social networking squarely falls into the cybernetics category as communication through technological means. The though that occurred to me is that it’s also bionic.
The only difference between Web 2.0 and Web 1.0 or Web Beta is ease of use. Things have become slightly easier, but personal web pages, blogs and social networks like myspace are basically the same thing that has a rather interesting counterpart in nature. The best example from nature is the behavior of bowerbirds. These birds build garish and elaborate nests “called bowers” to attract mates, which is a rather counter-intuitive behavior, as blinged-out nests are a prime target for predators.
“Depending on the species, the bower ranges from a circle of cleared earth with a small pile of twigs in the center to a complex and highly decorated structure of sticks and leaves – usually shaped like a walkway, a small hut or a maytree -, into and around which the male places a variety of objects he has collected. These objects – always strikingly colored – may include hundreds of shells, leaves, flowers, feathers, stones, berries, and even discarded plastic items, pieces of glass or similar things. The bird will spend hours carefully sorting and arranging his collection, with each thing in a specific place. If an object is moved while the bowerbird is away he will put it back in its place. No two bowers are the same, and the collection of objects reflects the personal taste of each bird and its capability to procure unusual and rare items (going as far as stealing them from neighboring bowers).”
I, personally already attracted a mate years ago. I’ve accomplished that with an old-fashioned web page (true story) that any modern myspace bowerbird would be jealous of. As I don’t need any more mates, the only reason for me to use social networks is to find friends. Also, as a web programmer I am interested in seeing the interfaces, technical tricks and various doodads that earn other developers kajillions of dollars.
Also, recently I was talking with a friend of mine (whom I’ve known for many years online and never met offline, by the way), and got into an argument about privacy feature trends in social networking sites. He countered my argument about something that Myspace does by saying that I don’t even have a Myspace account and thus don’t know what I am talking about.
Well, I went ahead and created one. I also got an account at LinkedIn, Facebook, and del.icio.us . I even created an account in William Gibson’s wet dream, Second Life, although thanks to my geek-atypical aversion to role-playing games I could not suffer though more than 15 minutes there.
In any case, I welcome all of you to go and check out my digi-bowers and add me as your friend.