by Barry Chudakov on October 27th, 2009

Exponential Conversations

Do the stories we tell about our communication tools reveal more about our lives than we realize? Do they also show how a Metalife emerges?

The other day as I was softly minding my digi-business, a Tweet from Steve Rubel flashed in the corner of my computer screen via TweetDeck: “Sending this from 35,000 feet in the air.” Later in his trip Steve Rubel Tweeted, “Flying home after a 7-day, 5-city biz trip with just my phone and no computer. I believe I have taken my last trip with a laptop.” Rubel’s Tweets show us a remarkably rapid evolution—instant personal communication from the air while also moving computing from a laptop to an iPhone.

Then it dawned on me that Steve Rubel was engaged in what we might call an exponential conversation. Ray Kurzweil shows here that computing growth is exponential—doubling and re-doubling over decades:

Photo Credit: Ray Kurzweil,

Photo Credit: Ray Kurzweil,

From a Metalife perspective, a conversation is exponential when it reveals not only exponential change in tool technology but a corresponding exponential change (or warp) in our lives. With nearly 33,000 Rubelites on Twitter and elsewhere, Steve Rubel is effectively saying: this change doesn’t stop at my communication tool, it goes to another power, it is change squared; my life will change at the speed of the tool, never to be the same, life as we used to live it is morphing in the Ping of an iTweet.

I then wondered if I might find other conversations that were exponential. Within minutes I came across Katie Couric’s Webshow interview with Roslalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabees, the basis for the 2004 movie, “Mean Girls.” Here is Wiseman on the remarkable change in girls’ behavior in the five years since her first version of the book came out in 2004:

Like when I first started writing this book, there was no Google. There was no YouTube. There were not ten-year-olds with cell phones. There weren’t 12-year-olds who …I got an email a couple days ago from a 12-year-old saying that she was so angry at me. She like hated me, because I had told her mother with my insane books that texting was not something that she should be doing at 12 years old. And she really was angry at me. [laughs]

Wiseman goes on to detail how cell phone technology amplifies texting and sexting mistakes, gives the illusion of privacy when there isn’t any, and can foster cyberbullying. But the striking takeaway here is that for young girls (and their boyfriends) cell phones and texting are changing behaviors faster than any current attempt at tool-education and much faster than their parents’ ability to fully understand how this tool has integrated into—and is changing—their kids’ lives.

Wiseman concludes with her take on the inevitable ‘so what do I do’ question:

Well, I think the best way to do this … and it’s changing so fast that I wouldn’t have been able to say this like six or nine months ago … is to say, “Look, I want you to have privacy. I want you to have your own life. But I reserve the right to check if I feel that I need to. You know what? I don’t even need to really use your phone, ’cause I can go on the website of our service provider and I can check all of your activity on there. So, I don’t really need to look on your phone.”

Once again: no one asked Steve Rubel to Tweet from the friendly skies or ‘live dangerously’ by replacing his laptop. No one told those ten and twelve-year-olds to start texting and cyberbullying and compromising their privacy. This Metalife emerged from their interacting with and adapting to communication tools—as it always does. Our conversations are exposing this Metalife, telling and re-telling how our lives are changing at the double-speed of our tools, in the logic and likeness of those tools.

Photo Credit: jenny.morros,

Photo Credit: jenny.morros,

As these conversations become exponential, we catch a glimpse, we start to feel at a gut level, the reality of embodying our technology. These conversations are showing us an emerging perspective-warp with our names on it. No business, government or church will be immune from this perspective-warping. On any given day, over 50% of Sun Microsystem’s workforce is remote and doing some business in a virtual world.  As more businesses conduct meetings and conferences virtually there will be more exponential conversations. As identity cleanup services (getting rid of digital dirt) become more prevalent there will be more exponential conversations. Governor Schwartzenegger and his wife, we can bet, recently had an exponential conversation about her use of a cell phone while driving—caught unawares by TMZ—which then launched a thousand gossipy conversations by nightfall.

How many exponential conversations are you having? Send us yours and we’ll post it here.


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